Review

Best New American Voices 2001

by



A word of advice for readers of BEST NEW AMERICAN VOICES 2001: Read
the preface by series editors John Kulka and Natalie Danford as
well as the introduction by guest editor Charles Baxter only after
you have read this fine collection of short stories. To enable you
to do this, here's the one thing you should know from the preface:
The stories were selected from those submitted by the heads of
various writing schools around the country, including the
University of Iowa's famed Writers' Workshop, the writing program
at Stanford, and the New York University graduate program in
creative writing. Baxter selected 17 stories, and he chose well ---
well enough that the stories should be allowed to stand on their
own without the particular spin put on them in the preface and
introduction. Baxter's take on these stories is no doubt true;
after all, he selected the stories and may well have had his
particular viewpoint about them in mind as he did. But readers may
find the stories more rewarding if they are read on their own terms
before a label is attached to them.

Although there is nary a poor story in the collection, a few shine
with particular brightness. Among them is "Superassassin" by Lysley
A. Tenorio of the Creative Writing Institute at the University of
Wisconsin. The story's plot --- a tale of a disturbed young man who
lives his life as though he were an avenging comic book hero ---
could have easily been overplayed and become maudlin and hokey, but
Tenorio does a fine job of capturing the nuances of comic book
prose, producing in effect a comic book without pictures. The
story's dark tone is reminiscent of the work of comic writers like
Frank Miller --- best known for his acclaimed portrayal of Batman
in THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS --- who knew that comic books don't have
to be comic.

Lidija S. Canovic of the University of North Texas contributed the
moving story "Bats," the tale of an old man unable to cope with the
destruction of his life in the war-torn Balkans. Indeed, several of
the collection's stories address issues of grief and loss,
including the tightly written "Loss" by Roompa Bhattacharyya, Zoey
Byrd's "Of Cabbages," and the surprisingly beautiful "Beheadings"
by Kira Salek of the University of Missouri, Columbia.
"Beheadings," which follows a woman's efforts to find her brother
among monks in Cambodia, is notable for both its strong depiction
of a country full of beauty and horror and for its powerful ending,
the best of any of the stories in BEST NEW AMERICAN VOICES
2001.

"We Are Cartographers," by Susanna Daniel of the University of
Iowa, is a sensitively written chronicle of a mother coming to
terms with her daughter's sexual awakening. Particularly well
handled is the moment when the mother realizes her daughter is
engaged in sexual exploration. As the mother spies --- and tries
not to spy --- she reflects on her daughter's personality and
spirit, looking for both explanations and reassurances that her
daughter will be okay. Other strong stories of relationships
include Erin Flanagan's quirky "Intervention" and Timothy A.
Westmoreland's "Darkening of the World," a story about a young man
whose existential angst causes him to wake himself up by laughing
and whose relationship to his roommate is forever altered when he
is left to care for the roommate's dog.

With the possible exception of Tenorio's accomplishment in
"Superassassin," there are no stylistic breakthroughs in BEST NEW
AMERICAN VOICES 2001, no writer whose voice bursts off the page
with an individuality promising immortality. However, each of these
17 writers knows how to tell a good story well, and --- importantly
--- has a good story to tell. Each deserves a second look when
their various current projects, including story collections and
novels, come to fruition.

Reviewed by Rob Cline (RJVBCline@aol.com) on January 21, 2011

Best New American Voices 2001
by

  • Publication Date: November 2, 2001
  • Genres: Short Stories
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0156010658
  • ISBN-13: 9780156010658