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Friday, November 26, 2010

In Progress: 'Best American Short Stories'

The second story in the latest edition of Best American Short Stories is centered in Flannery country. Marlin Barton, an author new to me who I will now seek out, is the creator of Into Silence.

It's the story of Janey, a deaf woman past her girlhood who lives with her aging mother. Gradually, it's apparent that Mama is the control freak and that she wants her daughter to take care of her. "Come home" and stay there is how she rules.

Mama brings into their lives a temporary boarder. Mr. Clark "wasn't one of those lost men that traveled through" their corner of the Southern small town landscape. He has a job taking photographs of buildings, including what was formerly slave quarters and which is now occupied by Aunt Minnie, descendant of slaves. She is now the housekeeper for the owners of the big house. The one living in the tiny cottage out back still serves those living in the big house. Janey knows her mother will not approve of her stepping inside the housekeeper's home, and she's right, but Janey also learns that the housekeeper rightly has proudly made her little place a home, a haven.

The boarder gives Janey the opportunity to leave, and the tension of whether she will be a dutiful daughter, under no illusions about her mother, or live her own life is utterly convincing. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Mr. Clark has a debt to pay, one that will change the lives of Janey and her mother.

The characters, their situations, their actions, their prejudices and realizations, all are firmly situated in Flannery O'Connor territory. But the beauty of Barton's work is that this story is his own, not a copy. The beauty of Best American Short Stories is that the anual volume not only can collect the obvious, well-known masterful works of the year, it also can introduce authors that have the potential to become favorites in years to come. Barton, not known to me before, is a writer whose work I'll seek out now that BASS has made the introductions.


  1. It's been a few years since I checked out The Best American Short Stories edition.... one of the best ways to "discover" new writers! Thanks for the reminder.
    My oldest daughter also enjoys The Best American Sports Writing and Travel Writing editions.

  2. This year's edition has less of the usual suspects and more new voices. I hope more of the stories are on this level.

    Best American Essays and Best Mystery Stories are my other two favorites. It's good to hear your daughter thinks there enough good sports and travel writing to make the other editions worthwhile. I'd always wondered.