Best American Fantasy
Reviewed by Rick Klaw, Fri., Oct. 19, 2007
Best American Fantasyedited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer
Prime Books, 396 pp., $14.95 (paper)
In the 1950s and 1960s, the distinctions between literary and fantasy fiction lacked rigid outlines. Nothing typified this trend more than editor Judith Merrill's 12 volumes of The Year's Greatest Science Fiction and Fantasy, published from 1956 to 1968. Within her anthologies, such authors as John Graves, William S. Burroughs, Donald Barthelme, and Günther Grass routinely appeared alongside more readily identifiable genre writers. Since the mid-Eighties, "best of" fantasy publications have focused on genre writers, all but ignoring stories that are marketed outside the field. Best American Fantasy replicates Merrill's success by combing nontraditional genre haunts and delving into mainstream literary and online magazines.
Editors Ann and Jeff VanderMeer offer a wide range of tales, most of which do not appear in other "best of" collections, from publications as different as Alaska Quarterly Review, Fantasy & Science Fiction, The Georgia Review, Harrington Gay Men's Literary Quarterly, McSweeney's, New England Review, The New Yorker, Oxford American, The Paris Review, and Zoetrope: All-Story. The VanderMeers chose their selections wisely.
Highlights include Sumanth Prabhaker's "A Hard Truth About Waste Management," Chris Adrian's "A Better Angel," Meghan McCarron's "The Flying Woman," Gina Ochsner's "Song of the Selkie," Tyler Smith's "A Troop [sic] of Baboons," E.M. Schorb's "An Experiment in Governance," Brian Evenson's "An Accounting," and Daniel Alarcón's "Abraham Lincoln Has Been Shot." Two pieces stand out: Nik Houser's "First Kisses From Beyond the Grave," a refreshingly original tale of a high school for zombies complete with teen angst and desires, and Kelly Link's clever "Origin Story" about two people with powers, super and not so much, and their lifelong love affair. A majority of the stories rotate around the loss of control, especially by persons with immense inner strength. Given the state of American politics since 9/11, this is not a surprising theme.
In Best American Fantasy, the VanderMeers accomplished their stated goal. They have successfully produced an excellent collection of the fantastical, completely disregarding the arbitrary distinctions of genre and, in the process, potentially reinvigorating American fantasy.
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