TheBest American Short Stories 2015 by T.C. Boyle
TheBestAmerican Series, whichfeatures TheBest American Short Stories,is an annual premier showcase of America’s best collection offiction and nonfiction stories. This series started in 1915 and sincethen, the BASS anthology has always sought to feature some of thebest American short fiction and nonfiction stories by some of thebest authors in contemporary literature. At its beginning in 1915,Edward O’Brien rolled out the series by editing a selection of thepreceding year’s stories. Every year, a specialist guest editor, arenowned literary figure is often invited to select and edit acollection of works to be featured in the annual collection. Theguest editors select a criteria preferable to them, after which theylay bare and provide justifications for certain stories having beenbrought to the anthology. A seasoned literary giant, Tom CoraghessanBoyle, sampled this year’s edition.
TomCoraghessan Boyle, famously referred to as T.C. Boyle, is a renownedAmerican story writer and novelist. T.C. Boyles has published 14novels and over 100 short stories. At present, T.C. Boyle is aprofessor of English at the University of Southern California. Awriter with a deep interest in contemporary issues affecting theAmerican society, Boyle has written several novels exploring the“baby boom” generation often roaming Americans and the world atlarge across the underlying cultural, historical and social issuesthat impinge on the phenomenon. Albeit from different perspectives.Across his works, it is easy to identify the themes that arepertinent to his course. In most circumstances, Boyle is oftenoccupied with the theme of the society’s hero, the male species andhis misguided efforts, most of which are “ridiculously”celebrated. His works speak of serious themes, but just like anyother seasoned literature writers, the works are often complete withhumor, brutal satire and a realism only described as magical. Thefiction stories written by Boyle paint the picture of a society thatshows no concern for the environment, but also depicts nature asruthless and very unpredictable. His works have won him severalliterary awards the most recent being the Rea Award for the shortstory in 2014. His reputation from succinct short stories andliterature made him a suitable candidate for this year’s edition of“The Best American Short Stories” and he did not disappoint. Theedition’s preface is laced with his characteristically brutalsatire, appeal to origins and a fresh access to originality.Moreover, the criteria he provides for his selection presents a keydeviation from the norm where he not only considers the type of“media hot dog” stories, but for the “content of the piece”noting that there is a need to recognize originality in contemporaryliterature. Obviously, his own perceptions, beliefs, experience andan insight of what an ideal literary society ought to be seems tohave dominated the anthology criteria.
TheBest American Short Stories 2015 – T. C. Boyle: Selection, Themesand Criterion
Ina succinct introduction to this year’s edition of the BestAmerican Short Stories,which happens to be the 100thedition, T. C. Boyle makes a relentless appeal to the tradition in amanner that draws criticism albeit in a mild way to the “buddingorigins of literature.” He writes that “the T model paved way forthe A model as Ferrari did to the Prius.” Further, he posits thatmodernism paved way for postmodernism and postmodernism topost-postmodernism.” And he doesn’t mince his words. In makingthese strong introductory statements, Boyle of course aims to preparethe literature fraternity and the broader reading audience to some ofthe dominant themes in the premiere edition. An objective he deliverswith utmost care and skill that characterizes most of his work in theordinary. He is probably weighing the incidence that his selection isbound to make in light of previous editions as well as providingdirection for the forthcoming publication of TheAmerican Short Stories 2016.This, he observes, is a situation that calls for a delicate balancebetween asserting individual authority and observing the seriestraditions. The tone of his introductory statement and forward aswell as the selection criteria cannot escape the attention of anyliterary ear it is a clear effort to acknowledge the societaltransition from one lifestyle to the other, which he, does anyway, inevery literary piece that he lays his hands. Only that this time thisacknowledgement comes with a strong appeal to the origin, atradition. Boyle, just like most contemporary literary authors,expresses his concern at the rate at which the societal values andprinciples are being given away for what does not matter. He, in mucha literary language, points out that most values that make for thecontemporary society’s amusements have no foundations in the idealvalues that structure the society. However critical this introductorystatement to TheBest American Short Stories 2015seems to be, it is cognizant of the current trends in literarycreativity and transitional proceeds. Boyle, it seems, is in favor oftraditional founding of literary themes, but as much in favor ofemerging trends and to some extent, secularity.
T.C. Boyle’s choices of stories in The Best American Short Stories2015 point in an effort to bring together, “under one roof”themes of continuity as much as those of transition. He presents whatis a genuine, hard earned achievement and disillusion as well asstrength savored from human weakness all of which serve to arouse thehuman imagination, an apt functional connotation of what makes aclassical fiction. More aptly, Boyle’s collection of stories iscarefully selected and it is much easier to not the wide range ofcharacters in the stories chosen which range from acharacteristically passive wife whose vitality resumes only at theonset of violence to the arrival of a widower complete with a newform of “freedom” to which he comes to terms. Writer Kevin Kantexpresses this tale in “HappyEndings”where the key protagonist who also happens to be a widower finds anew conception of the world after visiting a spa. In Laura Lee’s“Unsafeat Any Speed”we are presented with a husband and a father in constant fear for thefuture who later indulges in a crime spree. Characters in the storiesalso range from a lost child to a champion in the disguise of aspeedboat hero. Seasoned readers of Boyle’s literary work are muchmore at home with this collection owing to the fact that hestructures his works in ways that enhance a reader’s imaginationand thrust them into a thinking session of what the world might be.In recognition of this, Boyle himself notes that the collection isthematic but the operating element is that the stories are meant tokeep the readers glued to the edition and elicit surprise, whichaccording to him “is what ideal fiction ought to offer and there isno shortage of such in this year’s selection.”
Thecharacters in Boyle’s selected stories are mostly activecharacters, aggressive individuals who make several life-threateningmistakes, but it is also visible that these characters want topreoccupy themselves with uneasy thoughts. This theme doesn’tsurface any better than in Victor Lodato’s thriller “Jack,July”which takes the reader through an ordinary day of a young man in direneed of a daily dose of a drug. The story goes ahead to espouse theextents he is willing to go to get his “fix” The themes areevident in the role-play assigned to these characters as a transitionfrom downfall to glory seems a little more dominant a theme in thecollection. Moreover, the preoccupation of the characters withsomewhat uneasy thoughts, what we, in common parlance would not wantto contemplate, ignites the motivation behind human actionreinforcing the progressive notion that the human society can onlyprosper if it confronts it. The timing of such a theme should also beviewed in light of the present events and national debates concerningthe contemporary American society in which most opinion leadersarguing that the American society is slowly losing its corecompetencies and values in the face of many challenges that confrontit.
Largely,the characters as well as the contemporary societal issues undeniablyinfluenced the selection of the stories in Boyle’s collectionhaving published 15 novels and over 15 collections of short storiesin which character play has always been a central writing strategy.In the final of the stories, “Mr.Voice,”Boyle ostensibly uses the plot of the story in the 1970’s Americansetting to advance even a more valuable family value of togethernessin diversity. In this short captivation story, the main protagonistis a young girl in her teens who of all people, finds peace comfortand solace in a step father. The strange twist of events thatcharacterize these short texts serves Boyle’s well for the end ofthe series as they form a basis that he uses to advance hisfamily-related themes. Moreover, it is not by accident that thisstory was placed last in the obviously (and deliberately at that)structured collection.
Ofthe twenty stories published in The Best American Short Stories, fiveof them were first published in TheNew Yorker.The remaining 15 obviously share their preference for occasionalinscrutability especially in the past two years. For readers ofprevious editions, in Boyle’s collection, most of the storiesdefinitely present a test of what a “short story” ought to be.Boyle notes that the vibrancy, originality, thematic content anddiversity propelled the selected texts into his anthology. Some ofthe writers like Victor Lodato and Kevin Kant are visibly canonical.
DominantThemes and Plots
FromLaura Lee’s “Unsafeat Any Speed,” VictorLodato’s“Jack, July,” KevinKant’s “HappyEndings”to “Mr. Voice.” TheBest American Short Stories 2015offers a variety of literary gifts to the 21stCentury, a variety complete with societal values like no otheredition did before. Throughout the collection, Boyle seems to be moreoccupied with atransitional theme.These stories tell tales of the phenomenal changes in society and anindividual’s life from mediocrity to glory (More conspicuous in“Unsafeat Any Speed” and “Happy Endings.”)A second theme that runs across this collection is that ofself-determination and defiance of odds. This theme is much clearerin “Mr.Voice”and “Jack,July.”Additionally, the collection has a rooting in originality, secularityand an urge to belong. There is not a clearly distinguishabledominant writing plot, but what is observable is that the “strikinglyupbeat” stories in the collection portray very active characters. Acomprehensive plot that integrates a strange twist of eventssurrounding the character of a dominant protagonist.
BoyleT.Coraghessan.The Best American Short Stories 2015,Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, (2015).