New Stories from the South 1999: The Year's Best

Shannon Ravenel, Editor, Tony Earley, Preface by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $14.95 (306p) ISBN 978-1-56512-247-5
This distinctive series' 14th anthology of Southern stories offers the usual capable and engaging mix, juxtaposing established writers (Tony Earley, Mary Gordon), emerging writers (Michael Knight, Heather Sellers), and some perhaps well known only in Southern literary communities (Kurt Rheinheimer, George Singleton). The settings of these 20 entries range from Maryland to a section of Florida still recognizably Southern, and the styles vary nearly as much as the county names. The lineup includes the ubiquitous Southern gothic (it's the creepy and convincing ""Poachers,"" the title story of Tom Franklin's award-winning collection), a few satires, a Faulkner homage and plenty of narratives that avoid easy labeling. Knight's story, ""Birdland,"" a sweet, lyrical exploration of love and ornithology in a very small Alabama town, opens the collection and is perhaps the most polished entry. Between paeans to the South's famous humidity (""bone-warming, inertial heat, humidity thick enough to slow your blood""), Knight constructs the relationship of Raymond and Ludmilla, a couple bound together by the heat and a flock of African parrots. Singleton's tale, ""Caulk,"" presents a farce perhaps only possible in the South, in which a man covers his entire house in acrylic white caulk in an unsubtle rebellion against his wife. ""The Human Side of Instrumental Transcommunication,"" by Wendy Brenner, offers a public confessional that is both bitingly satirical and eminently compassionate, as she demonstrates the lengths to which some people will go to manage grief. Of the headline writers, Gordon's contribution, ""Storytelling,"" employs her signature motif--people smiling through pain. Earley, Richard Bausch, and Clyde Edgerton have produced stronger short fictions than the ones that appear here, but there are no disappointments in this zesty collection, which continues to showcase significant work. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 01/11/1999
Release date: 01/01/1999
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