The Best Short Stories and Collections of 2010: Part One
2010 has seen a dazzling array of stories, anthologies, and short story collections. Rather than prescribe my own favourite short stories for the year, I've found some of the best people in the Australian literary scene to help us out. Here Australia's writers, publishers and editors share their best short stories and collections from 2010.
Their thoughts are eclectic but invigorating. See how many of their best of's you've already read... and get hold of those you haven't. And as always, let us know of any of your favourites we might have missed.
What a year it's been. Let's begin.
Emmett Stinson - Author, Known Unknowns, winner, 2004 Age Short Story Award
My favourite story from this year was “The Cap” from Thomas Bernhard’s Prose, which initially appeared in 1967, but was only translated into English this year. “The Cap”--to appropriate a classic Seinfeld moment—is a story about nothing. A lonely, sick man, who is house-sitting for some relatives in a rural town, finds a lost cap on the road while he is out walking; somehow (and you’ll have to read it to find out how) Bernhard makes this insignificant moment the basis for a brilliant and very funny story.
As I’ve said elsewhere, I think Wayne Macauley is a criminally underrated author; "Other Stories"—which is full of surreal, darkly comic fiction--represents almost two decades of his short fiction, and serves as an excellent introduction to one of Australia’s most interesting and important contemporary writers.
My best story was Karen Hitchcock's "Forging Friendships", from Overland. It's available for free (madness! great!) here:
I love it because it's so in-your-face real. There's never any bullshit in Karen's stories. They are totally wysiwyg - and damn clever, to boot.
The best collection I read in 2010 was "Known Unknowns" by Emmett Stinson. The voice is both lively and despondent; it smacks of youthful vigour and at the same time the terrible feeling that all is totally lost. It feels incredibly close to home - Emmett's a fantastic writer.
I'm only half-way through Janet Frame's "The Daylight and the Dust": Selected Short Stories but I'm picking a story from it anyway. 'One Must Give Up' is just devastating. It speaks of the weight of everything. And the descriptions! It can speak for itself:
'The butcher arranges the white trays, pooled with blood, in rows in his window, while the cashier in her question box, puppet theatre or cave tries to find the reason for the stains on her white overall, since she never handles the meat and steps quickly through the wilderness of sawdust to reach her sanctuary. The thought occurs, Does money cause bloodstains? Have I been knifed in secret by weapons disguised as coins?'
Every passage is this good. Frame makes me want to simultaneously give up writing and rush to my computer to try to do better and better.
"The Daylight and the Dust" is eclipsing everything else. It's the best collection I've read since reading the collected stories of Richard Yates last year. I was surprised, when I got to the second section, that she wrote fantastical stories as well as realist ones. There's a moving story about a scream that everybody in the town hears but doesn't acknowledge. When a visitor brings up the subject he is of course convinced he is unwell. There is a story about a man, a writer, so distracted by his body and its needs that he rids himself of it (with the aid of some mice and a magical dustbin lid). His head learns to fly and he is free to think but then of course he cannot write his thoughts down. There are many stories from the point of view of children - taking you back to the time when it seemed like other kids had more interesting lives and there was so much to discover in the grass, the trees, down by the creek. And every sentence in Frame's work is a revelation - description, events, thought and dialogue flowing freely into one another in a perfect rhythm. Tense and POV shifts are seamless. I feel enriched for having read her work.
"The Boy" by David Foster Wallace (Available to read here)
I spent this entire year falling in love with DFW, and so maybe it's cheating a little to choose a posthumously published short of his, but it's excellent nonetheless. It's somehow beautiful in its form, the story feels 100% appropriate for how long it is, how it's paced emotionally, etc. It's an amazing idea executed with the insight and humour you would expect from him, and I love the way the very focused research, the anatomical terms, are applied to sort of first demystify and then remystify what is a self-effacingly magical endeavour.
The best collection I read for 2010 was the "Sleepers Iphone App". Putting aside the fact that all these stories are great, this one is just ridiculous value for money. I suspect that most people already know about this one, but I don't see why that should stop me from pointing out that it's the best thing to happen to short stories this year. Favourite story from the most recent Almanac is Nick Levey's 'Sue and Joe Chase a Light Hovering above the Treeline'. The figurative and literal potential of people fascinated with UFOs and aliens has been criminally under-explored since the end of the X-Files, and this does it really well.
I've read too many wonderful stories this year to have a single favourite so I thought I'd mention one I loved which has stuck with me because it's different. In A. G. McNeil's "Reckless, Susceptible" in New Australian Stories 2, every moment and every object is suffused with longing and despair, and the whole story thrums with a soft but insistent menace. It's new gothic, beautifully done. I hope there are a lot more A. G. McNeil stories coming soon.
As for a collection, or anthology, this year was a bumper year, but who can go past the release of an IPhone app of the whole Sleepers stockpile - six editions of Sleepers Almanac to dip into. I guess Sleepers will be issuing future Almanacs on the IPhone or some other gizmo, but I doubt we'll ever see 240 stories arrive in one hit like this again.
With judging the ABR fiction contest and all the journals I subscribe to, I must have read close to a thousand short stories this year, so this is a big call. Zoetrope All-Story have been printing some corkers though and I'm going to plump for "The Space Elephant" by Téa Obreht, from Zoetrope Vol.14 No.3. about a strange invisible sea creature that helps an old man paint Dali-esque murals on all the houses in his small town. At 25, Obreht is the youngest person on the New Yorker 20 writers under 40 list (one of only 2 in their twenties on the list in fact) and she hasn't even released a book yet. Her novel, "The Tiger's Wife" is due out in March and is supposed to be out of this world. She's the one everyone will be talking about next year. My 2nd favourite not far behind would be T.C. Boyle's "The Wreck of the Beverly B." from McSweeney's 34, about a woman trying to survive in the ocean after a boating accident. But oh, so many great short stories out there. I don't think the form has ever been so alive and exciting.
"The Dead Fish Museum" by Charles D'Ambrosio came out in the U.S. in 2006 and was finally released in Australia by Text this year. Eight 30-page stories, six of which first appeared in the New Yorker, which gives an indication of their quality. The highlight is perhaps "Screenwriter", in which a Hollywood scribe falls in love with a pyromaniac ballerina whilst incarcerated in a lunatic asylum. D'Ambrosio's style is slightly old school, reminiscent of early Tobias Wolff, but he works hard to craft complete, utterly convincing worlds in each story. It's like reading 8 mini novels, all of them amazing. The title is how a Salvadorian character refers to his refrigerator. A close 2nd in this category would be Maile Meloy's collection "Both Ways is the Only Way I Want it."