New Stories from the South: The Year's Best

Shannon Ravenel, Editor, Ellen Douglas, Preface by
Shannon Ravenel, Editor, Ellen Douglas, Preface by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $14.95 (299p) ISBN 978-1-56512-295-6
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As quoted by Ellen Douglas in her preface to the 15th anthology in this consistently strong series, a neighbor of Flannery O'Connor once said, ""Them stories just gone and shown you how some folks would do."" The 20 short narratives collected here are best enjoyed in the same spirit, as mesmerizing snippets from lonely, often strange, people's lives. ""He's at the Office,"" by Allan Gurganus, is the best of an impressive bunch. In Gurganus's intense, tightly composed tale, narrator R. Richard Markham Jr. discovers that Dick Sr.'s workaholism covers up a more serious sickness and ingeniously preserves what's left of his ailing father's selective memory. Memory is also the theme of R.H.W. Dillard's ""Forgetting the End of the World,"" which is postscripted with a wink from the author: ""I do not remember having written this story."" Cathy Day's imaginative contribution, ""The Circus House,"" is set at the turn of the 20th century in Peru, Ind., where ""Mrs. Colonel"" Ford is the genteel, self-described ""First Lady"" of the Great Porter Circus & Sideshow Menagerie. Her husband manages their marriage with the same practiced logic he brings to his traveling enterprise, leading Mrs. Colonel Ford to swallow her pride and chase after a younger man. ""Sheep,"" the story of a death row inmate told from the inmate's own perspective, is Thomas H. McNeely's accomplished debut. Another young writer, Christopher Miner, introduces a self-righteous home wrecker in ""Rhonda and Her Children,"" a wicked satire. Both Mary Helen Stefaniak (""A Note to Biographers Regarding Famous Author Flannery O'Connor"") and Margo Rabb (""How to Tell a Story"") use real-life experiences--Stefaniak's mother and aunts went to school with O'Connor, and Rabb's parents were killed in a plane crash--as their respective foundations for witty and tender stories. Polished works by Tony Earley, Tim Gautreaux, A. Manette Ansay, Robert Olen Butler, Clyde Edgerton, Melanie Sumner and Wendy Brenner round out this diverse and compelling collection. (Sept.)
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