Unfortunately, 2012 had no outstanding collections of short stories to match the two very fine collections of 2011: Steven Millhauser’s We Others and Edith Pearlman´s Binocular Vision—that is, except, of course, Alice Munro’s Dear Life.
The New York Times selection of 100 Notable Books of 2012 (echoed by other such "Best of" lists) included the following six collections:
Blasphemy by Sherman Alexie
The Book of Mischief by Steve Stern
Dear Life by Alice Munro
Married Love by Tess Hadley
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
What We Talk About when We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander
I have not yet read Tess Hadley’s collection, although I have read several of her stories that have appeared in The New Yorker in the past few years. I have not yet read Steve Stern’s collection and, sorry to say, am not familiar with his work. However, I have ordered both books and will read them in the next month and make some comments on them.
Of the four remaining books, it seems to me that only one is outstanding. I am sure my readers will not be surprised to hear that my favorite is Alice Munro’s Dear Life. I have commented on most of these stories over the past few years as they have appeared in The New Yorker and ask interested readers to check my previous blogs on Munro, easily found using the “search” line at the top right of this page. I do plan to make some comments on three pieces in the “memoir” section of the book next month, as well as some additional comments on the story “Corrie,” about which there was quite a bit of discussion on this blog. I will especially focus on how Munro changed the ending of the story as it appears in Dear Life.
I also refer my readers to my previous blogs on the Sherman Alexie, Nathan Englander, and Junot Diaz collections—none of which I think adds anything to the reputation of these writers. The Alexie collection is a “new and selected” batch, valuable for his best older stories, but not very interesting for the “new” ones. Alexie may have grown a bit too smug as a showman these days to devote himself to writing fine short stories. The Englander collection, which won some important awards (although I really don’t’ know why), is just more clever O. Henryish tales that Englander has done before, and (sigh) will probably do again. The Diaz is just one more set of tedious crude exploits of Yunior-- this time focusing primarily on his ineffective experiences with women and his snappy street chatter.
All four books—Munro, Alexie, Englander, and Diaz—seem to have sold rather well—even spending some time on the best seller lists. And that’s a good thing for the short story. The Munro stories are about as good as they get; the stories in the other four collections are lightweight—amusing, self-indulgent, just not very challenging or revealing about the complexities of human experience and emotion.
Oh, just to assure readers who also love the novel form that I do have some familiarity with that “baggy monster,” I have read at least three novels on The New York Times 2012 notable list: Zadie Smith’s NW, Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, and Colm Tobin’s The Testament of Mary. The Kingsolver is a rambling popular fiction with a social message that goes on and on and on about global warming. The Smith is a “postmodern” (whatever that is) experiment about fiction, culture, and individual identity—challenging but sometimes too self-consciously so. The Tobin is a novella about the adult life and death of Jesus told by his mother—the focus more on mother-stuff than on Jesus-stuff. If you want be feel socially conscious, read the Kingsolver; if you want to feel intellectually experimental, read the Smith; if you want to feel cynical about the origins of the Church, read the Tobin.
I wish all my readers a most happy new year and thank them for visiting this blog, reading my remarks, and sometimes even taking the time to respond to those remarks. I apologize for making that process a little more difficult recently by establishing a login, but I was getting bombarded daily by junk mail that I had to delete, often accidently deleting valuable comments by my readers.
Happy New Year! See you in 2013, my friends!