For the past few weeks, I’ve been reading “The Best American Short Stories.” As you may have guessed, it’s an anthology of the best American short stories. I’m not sure who made the collection, but I do know that it was published in 2014.
The stories are a bit too short for me to go into much depth in each one (especially without spoiling their endings), so I’ll be doing a very quick review for each story.
While reading, I mentally sorted the stories into three categories: “Wonderful” stories, which I think certainly earned their place in the anthology; “Memorable” stories, which weren’t necessarily enjoyable or remarkable, but I followed along with what was happening and remember their plot relatively clearly; and “Other,” stories that I’ve either already forgotten, didn’t understand going through, or simply didn’t leave any particular impression on me.
“The Diamond Lens” by Fitz James O’Brien (1858)
Before reading this anthology, I didn’t know that short stories could be this long. But this story was definitely worth it. Boy, does it take quite a few turns. One minute, you think it’s a science fiction story, the next you think it’s a mystery about how a fortune teller claims her victims, the next it’s a murder story, and the next it’s just…well, you’ll see. I never quite knew where the story was going, but O’Brien definitely pulled that off well.
“Titbottom’s Spectacles” by George William Curtis (???)
I notice with a lot of these earlier short stories, the author introduces us to completely inconsequential character who will relate the stories to the audience in the comfort of a sitting room. I found this kind of odd and unnecessary, but not too intrusive. This story starts off in such a way: at first, we’re given a main character who asks about the spectacles of a man named Mr. Titbottom. The meat of the story, however, comes from Mr. Titbottom relating the story to the main character (and thus us). I thought the story could have just been told by Mr. Titbottom without the need for side characters, but it was still a good story nevertheless.
“Memoirs of a Yellow Dog” by O. Henry (1906)
The story didn’t seem to have much point to it, but I found it charming.
“The Lady or the Tiger” by Frank Stockton (1882)
I loved this story when I first read it in middle school, and I still love it now.
“The McWilliamses and the Burglar Alarm” by Mark Twain (1882)
This is Mark Twain at his funniest. I was actually cackling at his descriptions. I love to see how the story still holds up nowadays even though the basic technology that formed the premise (an absolutely ancient burglar alarm) is essentially extinct.
Additionally, Twain has a lot of very cartoonish descriptions in here. I would have thought that only a modern writer, who grew up with things like Loony Tunes, would have been able to imagine things like humans being flattened into pancakes against a wall…
“The Pit and the Pendulum” by Edgar Allan Poe (1842)
This is an extremely suspenseful story, and I really enjoyed it.
“Curried Cow” by Ambrose Bierce (1874)
Not much to say besides “hilarious. ”
“The Lightning Rod Man” by Hermann Melville (1854)
Was this meant to be an educational piece against the techniques of swindlers?
“Who Was She?” by Bayard Taylor (1874)
In all honesty, this story seemed to be trying to make a point about the state of women in Victorian society, but I couldn’t deduce it from the story or a Google search.
“The Man Who Stole a Meeting House” by John Townsend Trowbridge (1897)
It’s hard to forget this story, but I didn’t feel any one particular way about it.
“The Telltale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe (1843)
I didn’t like this story when we read it in middle school, and I still don’t like it.
“William Wilson” by Edgar Allan Poe (1839)
This seems like one of those stories that might have had a lot of shock value and surprise back when it was first published, but now just seems mundane.
“The Story of an Hour” by Kate Chopin (1894)
See the above description.
“The Stolen White Elephant” by Mark Twain (1882)
This is obviously a satire, but I didn’t get any particular enjoyment or insights out of it.
“The Unknown Quantity” by O. Henry (1933)
See the description three stories back.
“The Belated Russian Passport” by Mark Twain (1902)
This was mildly entertaining, but the story feels like it didn’t have much of a point.
“The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry (1905)
I moderately enjoyed this story. I think I might have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t seen it reenacted so many times on TV.
“American, Sir!” by Mary Raymond Freeman (???)
Again, this story didn’t seem to have much of a point to it, and once again starts off with an odd extra main character who has little to nothing to do besides hear the actual story come from a narrative character.
These are the stories that are either so unmemorable or so unremarkable that I have absolutely nothing to say about them. I’m sure someone somewhere out there likes them, but I didn’t.