Book Review: Readings
Reviewed by Belinda Acosta, Fri., Dec. 29, 2006
New Stories from the South: 2006 The Year's Best
edited by Allan Gurganus
Algonguin, 342 pp., $14.95 (paper)Introductions to books are typically utilitarian. The worst of them are passionless descriptions of what lies beyond the roman-numbered pages. The best ... is there such a thing? If so, Allan Gurganus' (Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All) introductory essay for the 2006 volume in the New Stories From the South is surely an example of such: a piece that stands solidly on its own while inviting no, imploring readers to read what he's collected. In "The Rebellion Continues, at Least in the Southern Short Story; Battle Notes While Choosing 2006's New Stories From the South," Gurganus not only delivers a declaration on the supremacy of arts and letters from the South (along with a double-dog-dare to prove him wrong) but expands his discussion to ask why fiction matters. "Surely," he writes, "we should expect our literature to do a bit more than distract us from our desperate age. The best stories I read this year hold in common a singular (and therefore various) sense of voice." The anticipation is thick.
And, then, we get to the 20 stories. They are largely forgettable, with a few notable exceptions: Nanci Kincaid's "The Currency of Love" (from Epoch), William Harrison's "Money Whipped" (from The Texas Review), and Kevin Wilson's miraculous "Tunneling to the Center of the Earth" (from The Frostproof Review) are rewarding. Wilson's story of a young man keeping real life at bay by digging a hole to China singularly lives up to Gurganus' proclamation that he has found work worth celebrating. Each story includes a bio (with photo) of the author, followed by an authorial statement on how the story came to be. If photos and surnames are any indication, the cultural diversity of the South Gurganus celebrates in his essay is largely absent. For those of us who can't help but noticing, this is a familiar disappointment. For those who never give it a thought, there's at least one story that will please. If not, our intrepid editor's treatise will inspire.