The Best American Short Stories 2012
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012
384 pp., $28.00
Linda McCullough Moore
Best American Short Stories 2012
Jess Walter's "Anything Helps" poses chilling questions about another sort of love, that of a parent for a child—in this case an addict's love for his young son, living in a foster home. No step this father takes is casual, but each is grounded in his loving: first the choice to go on living—always a matter of decision—then to stare his demons down, to go back to the homeless shelter he calls the Jesus Beds, and there, to stand holding a book, outside in the rain, to pull his jacket over his head to shield the page, and then to read … aloud, to himself, with an accent and everything. Bit by bit: Bit the father's given name.
Another telling of a parent's love, Sharon Solwitz's "Alive," chronicles an impromptu ski trip of a mother and her two young sons, one of whom is on a break from chemotherapy and blood transfusions for his cancer. The healthy brother has an accident out on the toughest slope, but with only broken bones survives, and the mother jumps onto his survival like a life raft; even as a boy, her son realizes she will rely upon him, cling to him, for the rest of her life. In this, as is so many of these stories, the care we take of one another costs us dearly. No texting ever long enough to tell this story.
This is not a book of love stories, but it is the first volume in this series in a number of years to include so many explorations of our frank longing for relationships, our earnest, if misguided, attempts to make them work and to deal with the quandaries they bring to our lives. Ezra Pound called upon "the artist to make humanity aware of itself," and so these stories do. In a brilliant New Yorker piece on Henry James, Anthony Lane imagines our current state as seen by James, describing modern living rising up "like a bad dream; an archipelago of solitudes, feverishly interlinked, with bridges collapsing as fast as we can build them." We must be thankful for this collection, which does not require the distance of a century to help us see ourselves and know that no matter how many phones we buy, in the end we're calling out to one another.
Linda McCullough Moore is a writer living in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her most recent short story, "It's Hard to Know What You Need," appears in the October issue of THE SUN. www.lindamcculloughmoore.com
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