Thursday, December 31, 2015

"Best" Short Story Collections of 2015

With only a few  hours remaining in 2015, I thought it was high time to comment on what folks in the reviewing world thought were the best short story collections of the year.  I surveyed all the major print outlets that list their "notable" or "best" or "favorite" books of the year and singled out the short story collections that made those lists.  Here are the results of my survey with some desultory comments on the choices.

Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles  (National Book Award winner) 
I read this one and reviewed it for Magill's Literary Annual,  and therefore cannot comment on it here for copyright reasons. Johnson, said he was surprised when it won the National Book Award.  I am surprised also, for I found it mostly playing around with eliciting sympathy for unlikeable characters, rather than truly exploring the complexities of character.
New York Times
National Public Radio
Washington Post

Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Women
I reviewed this one for Magill's also and thus cannot go into any detail about it.  But I did find it good, honest writing, although it was more memoir than short fiction.
New York Times
Washington Post

Edith Pearlman, Honeydew
I am sorry to say that I was disappointed with this book, after falling in love with her earlier collection Binocular Vision. I am not sure what happened here, but like her work so much I plan to read it again and comment more on it later.
New York Times
Washington Post
Los Angeles Times
San Francisco Chronicle

Joy Williams, The Visiting Privilege: New and Selected Stories
 No question that this was my favorite of the year.  I have not read all the "new" stories yet, but have commented on many of the earlier stories elsewhere on this blog. 
New York Times
National Public Radio
Washington Post
San Francisco Chronicle

Thomas McQuane, Crow Fair
I really do not understand how PW  could term this the "best" short story collection of the year.  I reviewed it for Magills and found it superficial, cynical macho play-acting.
Publisher's Weekly (who called it the best short story collection of the year
San Francisco Chronicle

Clarice Lispector, The Complete Stories
I have written about Lispector in other places and have always liked her work.
New York Times            
San Francisco Chronicle

Colum McCann, Thirteen Ways of Looking
Sorry to say I have not read this one yet, but hope to get to in soon.
New York Times
National Public Radio

Charles Baxter, Something I Want You to Do
This is Baxter's Vices and Virtues experiment.  I have commented on two of the stories earlier on this blog. I have always liked Baxter, but not sure about this collection.
Washington Post
San Francisco Chronicle

Ann Beattie, The State We're In: Main Stories
I just ordered this book and will review it for Magill's. I will let you know later, but am not expecting much.
Washington Post
San Francisco Chronicle

Other collections that got at least one mention:
Steven Millhauser, Voices in the Night (A favorite; see earlier comments on two stories)
Edna O'Brien: The Love Object: Selected Stories (See earlier comments on O'Brien on this blog)
Kirstin Valdez Quade, Night at the Fiestas  (I posted comments on two of her stories earlier)

I have not read the following, but hope to get to some of them.
Padgett Powell, Cries for Help
Anthony Marra, The Tsar of Love and Techno
Alejandro Zamba, My Documents
Kelly Link, Get in Trouble
Elizabeth Tallent, Mendocino Fire

Curious that a collection that was shortlisted for the National Book Award, but not on any of the "best" lists is Karen Bender's Refund.  I reviewed it for Magill's and found it predictable and clichéd.


Ann Graham said...

So glad you've "returned."

Karl said...

Great to have you back with us, Charles. I was thinking I'd have to buy this upcoming issue of Magill's Literary Annual that you've written so much content for, but I see from past issues that it has a "scholarly text book" price. Ouch.

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Anonymous said...

I'm also glad to see you have "returned." I enjoyed looking over your best of list today.

Greg said...

Longtime reader/lurker here, Charles. (Happy New Year, and glad to have you back!) Allow me to recommend Elizabeth Tallent's Mendocino Fire, which was easily my favorite collection from the past year, and one of my very favorites from the past decade. I finished it only last week, so it's possible I'll cool on it a bit once more time has passed, but for now I'm waving it around like a flag. I enjoyed Tallent's previous collections well enough, but her stories seem to have grown so much more more capacious and soulful during a twenty-year hiatus from publishing.

Unknown said...

Hello! I was interested to see mention of The Love Object in your blog. Is this a reissue of Edna O'Brien's collection which was originally published in the late 60s? I've owned the Penguin paperback for 20 years. Cheers,

Charles E. May said...

Thanks for the kind welcome back!

Yea, Karl, the Magill's Literary Annual is one of those library subscribtion annuals that cost so much the individual cannot afford it. Check your local library; they may have it online.

Thanks for the recommendation, Greg. Based on your praise, I am ordering the Tallent collection today. I have read her stories before and have always respected them.

Hi, Dorryce. The new Love Object collection is a much bigger book than the old 1970s collection of the same name--contains some of those stories and more besides. I have all those stories in various collections.

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