Those of you who are avid story-readers know that there are no new stories.
There have not been any truly new stories for centuries. We must rely on new forms to keep things interesting. This certainly seems to be Ben Marcus’s philosophy. In the Anchor Book of New American Short Stories (Anchor, $13), Marcus assembles work from 29 of America’s most important contemporary fiction writers. He presents a wide variety of innovative fiction from the likes of Gary Lutz, Aleksandar Hemon, Lydia Davis, Matthew Derby and nearly every other writer who is actively experimenting with the short story form.
In assembling this new anthology of contemporary fiction, Marcus states in the introduction, “In twenty-nine separate but ingenious ways, these stories seek permanent residence within a reader. They strive to become an emotional or intellectual cargo that might accompany us wherever, or however, we go . . . If we are made by what we read, if language truly builds people into what they are, how they think, the depth with which they feel, then these stories are, to me, premium material for that construction project. You could build a civilization with them.”
Construction has begun on a sort of cultural edifice that is defined by the work of these authors. The volume is valuable as an insight into the future of literary culture.
The anthology does have its low points like any anthology. Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri’s piece stood apart from the other pieces in the collection. While it was still a great story, it seemed dull when paired with the myriad of radical linguists represented here. There were still only a few selections that failed to delight, impress, move, or provoke me in some way. All of them were exceptionally well crafted, and it was always obvious why Marcus chose to include their work.
For an enjoyable look into the future of the short story form, start here.