New Stories from the South 1998: The Year's Best

Shannon Ravenel, Editor, Padgett Powell, Preface by
Shannon Ravenel, Editor, Padgett Powell, Preface by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $12.95 (299p) ISBN 978-1-56512-219-2
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In his characteristically witty preface to this fine collection, Padgett Powell evokes Faulkner's ""they mought have kilt us, but they ain't whupped us yet,"" but in fact these 19 stories capture more than whippedness. The varied pleasures of these short narratives range from the close descriptions of the daguerreotype art of Augustus Robin in John Russell's ""Yellow Jack"" through Mark Richard's hilarious ""Memorial Day,"" in which a newcomer to Alcoholics Anonymous sets out to tell his life story and ends up telling the tale of his wife's (dubious) kidnapping by a vagrant. The bittersweet tendrils of love bonding a young girl and her disorderly ""mental"" mother in Nancy Richard's ""The Order of Things"" and the persistence of Mozart (and Jimi Hendrix) in the Vietnam hangover of a radio show host in Scott Ely's ""Talk Radio"" breed a kind of still life, dormant or dead, that mocks the abundance of nature. Whether raunchy, like Frederick Barthelme's erotically claustrophobic reworking of a John Updike story in ""The Lesson,"" or poetically haunting, like the cosmology of Powell's ""Aliens of Affection,"" each story, each ""county,"" teems with residents touched by a Southern gift of gab. Whether (in Updike's words) ""a cosmology without a theology"" or a stubborn insistence that what we know best (even the sacred) begins right in front of our noses, the lasting impression of these stories (not a bad one among them) is of people maybe ""kilt,"" maybe even ""whupped"" but, wait, there's more to come, only (as Uncle Oliver in Annette Sanford's ""In the Little Hunky River"" says) it's ""too complicated to get into now."" Tim Gautreaux, Stephen Dixon and Tony Earley are some of the other voices who spin their own set of complications. (Sept.)
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