2006 Books Read – #5

The Best American Short Stories of the Eighties edited by Shannon Ravenel

The Best American Short Stories of the Eighties


This is an uber-anthology consisting of two stories from each of the Best American anthologies from 1980-1989. I picked it up because the author names are mostly well-known ones that you see bandied about a lot, but I hadn’t read any of these stories before.

I actually started reading it last year, got about halfway through and set it aside. This isn’t a knock on the quality of the stories. The problem is that it’s an anthology. I couldn’t finish a story and immediately jump into the next one. I had to give each story time to settle between readings. This made for a much slower read than a novel or even a short story collection. And I get a little antsy when I’m reading the same book for a really long time, hence the break.

Onto the content: There’s no question that these stories are good. But that said, I didn’t like all of the stories equally well. There was one story I couldn’t get through (basically, I found the style annoying). I connected with more of the later stories than the earlier ones (they were arranged chronologically).

Some of the stories (particularly “The Way We Live Now” – Susan Sontag and “The Management of Grief” – Bharati Mukherjee) felt like historic records of moments in time. I found reading “The Management of Grief” (about the aftermath of Air India) especially poignant, given that the trial only took place last year and the defendants were acquitted.

The stories that will stay the longest with me are probably “Helping” by Robert Stone and “The Management of Grief.” I’ll definitely look for other work by Mukherjee.

So what’s in it?

  • From 1980, “The Old Forest” by Peter Taylor & “The Emerald” by Donald Barthelme
  • From 1981, “The Shawl” by Cynthia Ozick & “A Working Day” by Robert Coover
  • From 1982, “Cathedral” by Raymond Carver & “Exchange Value” by Charles Johnson
  • From 1983, “Deaths of Distant Friends” by John Updike & “Sur” by Ursula K. LeGuin
  • From 1984, “Nairobi” by Joyce Carol Oates & “In the Red Room” by Paul Bowles
  • From 1985, “Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story” by Russell Banks & “Fellow-Creatures” by Wright Morris
  • From 1986, “Gryphon” by Charles Baxter & “Health” by Joy Williams
  • From 1987, “The Way We Live Now” by Susan Sontag & “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien
  • From 1988, “Dede” by Mavis Gallant & “Helping” by Robert Stone
  • From 1989, “The Management of Grief” by Bharati Mukherjee & “Meneseteung” by Alice Munro