Book Review: The American Short Story Is Alive and Well

Best American Short Stories

Put aside your sand-covered beach reads—it’s time to get back to some substantial fall reading with The Best American Short Stories 2012, guest edited by Boston-based author Tom Perrotta. Whether you’re a seasoned, well-read literature professor or a 20-minutes-before-bed kind of reader, this collection of America’s (and Boston’s) best shorts show that the art of the short story didn’t go to the grave with Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

Surefire hits like Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank” (featured in The New Yorker)—that brings up questions of life, religion, and love (and marijuana)—dazzle with each turn of the page. New voices come on strong, like in Taylor Antrim’s “Pilgrim Life,” a cautionary tale of a man with a body in his rearview mirror, a desolate desk job, and a fetish for good table manners.

“In high school, for instance, [my brother] told the soccer team I was gay, wrote poetry, and tried to kill myself. When I complained, my mother helpfully pointed out that the poetry part was true,” says Lewis, the protagonist of the aforementioned story.

With lines like that, how can you not be hooked by these characters?

There’s certainly no shortage of vivid characters in this year’s selection: there’s the Home Depot-employed homewrecker by the name of Darlyn (in Carol Anshaw’s “The Last Speaker of the Language”), the quirky Christine and Ivan (in Boston-resident Jennifer Haigh’s “Paramour”), and Emily and her dining companions (dead insects) in a science lab in “Honeydew” by Brookline’s own Edith Pearlman. This year’s selection from Perrotta gives next year’s editor a hard edition to top.

PEN New England and Porter Square Books will host a celebration to usher in this year’s Best American Short Stories at Middlesex Lounge on Wednesday. An array of Boston contributors including Perrotta himself, Jennifer Haigh, and Edith Pearlman will be there to discuss the collection.

The Best American Short Stories 2012 was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The Best American Short Stories 2012 Conversation will take place October 10, 6 p.m., at Middlesex Lounge, 315 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge,