Adventures in Reading

Short Stories: Best American Short Stories 2008 edited by Salman Rushdie

“…America has become fearful of late, its doors have not been open to the world’s huddled masses in the old, generous way, but still the world’s stories somehow continue to make their journeys to America, and metamorphose, with remarkable ease, into new American tales.”

Every year I think it would be a good idea to read the Best American Short Stories collection and every year I don’t. Until this year. Guest edited by Salman Rushdie, the 2008 collection has an interesting premise of the slipperiness and subjectiveness of the series itself. Best? American? Short? Stories? What do these words mean or entail? Even Rushdie is not native to any of the Americas, but has only relatively recently made them his home. With stories selected from American and Canadian magazines and journals, the Best American collection brings together some of the highlights of the year.

I’m going to look shortly at each of these stories over a series of posts with the criteria of “best,” “American, “short, and “story.”

Best:  American: x Short: 20.5 Story: x

From Harper’s Magazine, T.C. Boyle’s story “Admiral” explores two obscenely wealthy people’s quest to restore their lost dog Admiral through genetic engineering. In an attempt to recreate the original dog, they call upon Nisha who was their dog sitter years before when she was in high school. With complications of her own, Nisha accepts this post-college job to relive her high school days as closely as possible. Eventually she runs into an environmental and animal rights activist interested in the case.

The story has an interesting premise, but ultimately I said okay, shrugged, and moved along. In his introduction, Rushdie mentioned that this story by Boyle was interchangeable with Boyle’s “Sin Dolor” and Boyle explains the story as a foray “into terra incognita of technological change.” The story does have a little Frankensteinian draw to it. Boyle is a prolific writer and though I have not read much by him, “Admiral” did not grip me as a best story.

Best: x American: x Short: 13 Story: x

From Ecotone, Kevin Brockmeier’s “The Year of Silence” is told from an intimate yet communal perspective. In a large city there is a sudden moment of complete silence like the silence that occasionally interrupts a cocktail party. These bleeps of soothing and calming citywide silence continue and attract the people. Eventually, the people seek to artificially and succeed at creating the silence only to have ripples of noises as a response. Some recording the instances of piercing silence or noise begins to record the pauses and breaks wondering of the message located within.

I loved this story. In part because the “narrative architecture” is quite attractive and suspenseful, but also because the story is interactive and as a reader you discover the message on your own via Morse code. Brockmeier cites his inspiration from his own “sensitivity to noise” and Jame’s Salter’s story “Akhnilo.” The story is very technical as the people mantle and then dismantle the silence, and this is interspersed with very human and real moments.



I love everything about “The Best American” series. I almost bought the short stories last week, but I got the travel writing book, instead. I figure by the end of the year, I’ll have almost the entire collection. I hope you enjoy this!

Comment by J.S. Peyton

“The Year of Silence” sounds right up my alley. Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts on this one. I often buy the collections, but I rarely read the whole thing.

Comment by Andi

How long have these been coming out? I see a number of these when I’m perusing Goodwill for books. I just might start buying them.

Comment by Ashotick

@Ashotick The series has been coming out, in one form or another, for almost a hundred years. I think the current format, with a revolving series of year specific editors, started about thirty years ago. Like any anthology, they’re hit or miss, but I’ve read some of the stories in this one: Brockmeier, Russell, and Lethem’s I loved especially, so I’ve got high hopes for when I get around to buying it (or reading bits of it over time at the bookstore).

@AdventuresinReading Yes, the architecture of Brockmeier. That’s the perfect word. He builds such precise stories. Have you read anything else by him? I’ve been tearing through his books of late, in preparation for an interview, and he’s become one of my favorites.

Comment by Chris

The year of silence is an extrodinary piece. It is intimate and deeply personal, while simultaneously public and appliciable to a larger scope. This is definintly up there with Brockneier’s best work.

Comment by Drew

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