Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2000
ISBN: 1-56512-295-X
New Stories From the South: The Year’s Best, 2000 takes its readers through the South of the past and present, to Rhee’s Jazz Joint, Dog Slaughter Creek, Macon, Galveston, Southern Board, Integrity, a prison and graduate school, extensive and brief car rides, a car accident, in people’s minds (and lack thereof) with fully rendered scenes, as if one is seated comfortably at the movies, captivated, buttered popcorn in hand. The stories detail tragedies, dilemmas and loneliness. As stated in Ellen Douglas’ preface, where she deliberates artistic expression, “Story after story in this year’s New Stories From the South illustrates the writer’s abiding concern with making artwork expressive of the human feeling, stripped of the extraneous, the irrelevant. Again and again a story runs like a rumor and a legend, making sense of what life’s brutalities cannot. And I find in these writers a deep and sympathetic perception of the tragedy of human loneliness.”  
      Stories from this fifteenth edition were selected by editor Shannon Ravenel, a founder of Algonquin Books, who initiated the New Stories From the South in 1986 and was editor of The Best American Short Stories for fourteen years . 
      The twenty diverse stories are unique and compelling, filled with layers, texture and complexity. The reader wonders how such alarming stories originate and evolve; at each story’s conclusion, the author's note explaining its origin provides a personal and interesting appeal. From the first work, Mary Helen Stefaniak’s “A Note to Biographer’s Regarding Famous Author Flannery O’Connor”, where the character, Mary Helen (yes, just like the author), burns her PhD thesis due to the thesis supervisor labeling it “unscholarly and banal”, to the final story, Margo Rabb’s “How to Tell a Story”, in which the narrator struggles with her compulsion to write an autobiographical short story, the collection is filled with convincing ordeals of comedy and trauma . 
      Also dealing with academia (and factory life) is Tim Gautreaux’s “Dancing with the One-Armed Gal”, in which fired factory worker Iry Boudreax picks up hitchhiker Claudine Glover, a recently fired professor, and drives her from Grand Crapaud, Louisiana to El Paso, Texas, sympathizing with her along the way. After realizing his dream of touring cowboy museums, Iry realizes the world he contemplated isn’t the same as he had imagined. Also a factory-based story, Melanie Sumner’s “Good-Hearted Woman” portrays seventeen-year-old Louise Pepper’s torment while working in her father’s cardboard plant and her affair with a forty-something, spitting, smoking, beer-drinking co-worker . 
      John Holman’s “Wave” is a humorous and intriguing account of Ray’s commute to work during which he sees a man obsessed with waving, then later finds a wailing drunk in his backyard. The story piques both the reader’s and the character’s curiosity and sympathy. Also work-related: “He’s at the Office” by Allan Gurganus illustrates a family’s trouble with Dick’s dementia and his obsession with work. Another charming conception of memory is R.H. W. Dillard’s “Forgetting the End of the World” where the narrator is cognizant of his forgetfulness but recalls a moment with Constance Everby, a woman whom he’d loved; when she retells her version of the event, its contradiction instigates his deliberation on whether the loss and reconstruction of one’s memory is what constitutes the end of the world. In R.H.W. Dillard’s explanation of the story’s origin, he states, “I do not remember having written this story.”  
      Thomas H. McNeely’s “Sheep” is his first published work of fiction. The touching story of uneducated Lloyd makes one excogitate the morality of the execution chamber, whether innocent or guilty, sane or insane. And “In the Doorway of Rhee’s Jazz Joint”, by D. Winston Brown, deals with the different worlds of young and old, black and white, latching onto history while trying to move on. Karen Sagstetter's "The Thing With Willie", set in Galveston during the Depression, draws a panoramic view of Anna and Howard Clinton and their interactions with a black man, Willie, and his mentally handicapped son . 
      Clyde Edgerton’s “Debra’s Flap and Snap” encounters “Miss Piggy’s” lingering memories of her horrific date with L. Ray, and “Heavy Metal” by Robert Olen Butler shows how a young girl finds her inner Jesus in opposition to her preacher father . 
      “Box” by A. Manette Ansay manifests a carton of innocent kittens that serves as a marker for the give-and-take of a marriage, while “Just Married” by Tony Earley leads a married couple to the car crash of an elderly newlywed couple that provokes their meditative hypotheses of real, true love. “Widow” by Romulus Linney is an enchanting first-person story of a young boy's observation of Rebecca Tull and her search for a new suitor. Wendy Brenner’s “Mr. Puniverse” is an compelling second-person tale of love in which the narrator believes bouts of electricity are spawned by adoration’s energy . 
      The faithful friendship of a girl and her black dog delivers love and pain in Chris Offut’s “The Best Friend”, where the dog and girl spill blood and guts, defending one another. And last but not least, William Gay’s “My Hand Is Just Fine Where It Is”, Cathy Day’s “The Circus House” and Christopher Miner’s “Rhonda and Her Children” capture the world of the South, with compelling, heartfelt attention grabbing characters and skillful writing . 
      Although this fine anthology is not only a tour of the past and present South, it pertains to all. As Ellen Douglas states, “They [the artists] have striven to make sense of what life’s brutalities cannot, have voiced our region’s tragedies and dilemmas, have forced the nation to turn and look at these and to see that they are not simply the South’s tragedies and dilemmas, but the nation’s and indeed the world’s.”  
      With its various subjects, forms and voices, this persuasive collection is a wonderfully entertaining compilation of compelling, edgy, artfully-written prose.