Friday, December 28, 2007

Ford Fiesta

This appeared in the lastest issue of TimeOut Mumbai.


Funny things, anthologies. Their titles tend towards the definitive: The Oxford Book of This, The Penguin Book of That, The Vintage Book of Whatever. Yet, inevitably, every anthology exhibits individual tastes; it’s the nature of the beast. So it is with The New Granta Book of the American Short Story edited by Richard Ford, a follow-up to his 1992 The Granta Book of the American Short Story. This volume contains new tales by 14 authors from the former book, as well as those by a later generation. Evidently, then, it isn’t intended to replace, but be a foil for, the earlier compilation.

Some of Ford’s choices are clearly unusual. John Cheever’s ‘Reunion’ and Raymond Carver’s ‘Errand’ – fine-tuned narratives though they may be -- are hardly representative of those authors’ works. The so-called experimental writing of the Seventies is represented by just one story, Donald Barthelme’s ‘Me and Miss Mandible’, with Robert Coover getting the axe. And while it’s gratifying to see Richard Yates included once more, it’s disheartening to note that Bernard Malamud isn’t.

For the rest, Ford’s selection is generous, not favouring modes or movements. There are the formal verities of Eudora Welty; the colloquial corrosiveness of Grace Paley; the loopy poignancy of George Saunders; and the gritty revelations of Z.Z. Packer, among more than 40 others. Interestingly, many of the authors featured here have only one collection of short stories published so far – including Jhumpa Lahiri, Nell Freudenberger, Nathan Englander and Adam Haslett.

Ford’s introduction, which is nothing less than a full-blown exaltation of the short story writer’s art – mentioning Chekhov as a prime exemplar, naturellement -- states that one of the fundamental traits of the short story is that of audacity, a bold exercise of the writer’s authority. Well, the narratives in this hefty volume certainly live up to that description. Modesty be damned: the anthologist should have included one of his own stories as well.

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