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Desiderata: Our Favorite Short Stories of 2012
Elissa Schappell (Editor at Large): “A Full Service Shelter” by Amy Hempel. One of my favorite short stories was one we published in Tin House. The structure, repetition of the lines, “They knew” ie. “They knew me as the one who held the scarred muzzle of a long-nosed mutt in sick ward and sang, “There is nose in Spanish Harlem” until he slept” is brilliant. And the emotion Hempel can pack into a line, “They knew me as the one who decoded the civic boast of a—”full service” shelter, that it means the place kills animals, that the “full service” offered is death” is incredible.
Lance Cleland (Summer Writer’s Workshop Director): “Lion And Panther in London” by Tania James. I’ve been trying for years to get Granta to partake in an office swap program, so hopefully this little plug is just the right grease for the palm. Not that this fantastic story from their Britain issue doesn’t stand on its own. The story of two brothers from Lahore who have come to London to prove themselves against other champion wrestlers, James transforms what could be an expected fish-out-of-water tale into something tender and deeply moving. I have never wrestled (professionally), nor do I have a brother, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t want to step into the ring and help these guys off the mat by the end of the story.
Rob Spillman (Editor of Tin House): Stuart Dybek’s “Tosca”. Dybek’s first two story collections, Childhood and Other Neighborhoods: Stories (1980) and The Coast of Chicago (1990), were revelations to me. Here was a gritty American voice unafraid to be rough and realistic, yet at the same time poetic and surreal. At times Dybek seemed to be reaching right into the subconscious, physical and mental states seamlessly blended. Dybek, in other words, is one of my heroes. Coincidentally, I grew up in the opera world, and was tapped for many children’s roles, including for the chorus in Tosca. I have visceral memories of evil police chief Scarpia entering the church and being genuinely afraid that he would kick me out of the way. So when I received Dybek’s story “Tosca”, my worlds collided and melded. Through layers of dream and reality, Dybek conjures Tosca from stage to modern interpretations.
Emma Komlos-Hrobsky (Editorial Assistant, Tin House): “Cretan Love Song, 1600 B.C.” by Jim Shepard
I felt under-read to answer this from any kind of position of authority, so I did an intensive survey this weekend of what my favorite mags put out this year, and Jim Shepard’s “Cretan Love Song, 1600 B.C.” from Zoetrope scrabbled its way straight to the top of my list. The story is just a couple of pages long, but packs into that space an incredible compressed heat. I love its work-in-miniature on two super-sized disasters: a town-swallowing wave, and the task of staring down that apocalypse alongside your family.
Masie Cochran (Associate Editor, Tin House Books): Jon McGregor’s collection This Isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You: Stories blew me away. Brutally poetic, unnerving, and illuminating, McGregor’s stories do a lot of work in a few words. The opening story, “That Colour,” is only two pages, but somehow manages to capture years of marriage in a way that is short and sweet and hopeful and, like the wife remarking on autumn leaves, just lovely.
Diane Chonette (Art Director): “Reeling for the Empire” by Karen Russell. It is gorgeously written and has clung close to my heart since first reading it. I was immediately sucked in and transported to the dark and musty spaces where Russell’s richly-drawn characters were making their deepest sacrifices. It was recently published in our Winter Reading issue of Tin House. Check it out.
Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books): “People That Don’t Exist,” by Shani Boianjiu. This short story, published in Zoetrope, is told through the brief alternating points of view of an eighteen-year-old female Israeli soldier (Person A) and an eighteen-year-old Sudanese refugee attempting to cross the Egyptian-Israeli border (Person B). At first, these paragraph-long sections seem disjointed, but slowly a connection is formed in that each woman must guard herself against the violence occurring daily around her, whether she witnesses it on a screen monitoring the border (Person A) or experiences it firsthand in a refugee camp (Person B), as well as against the grief of an abortion (Person A) and of a mother’s death (Person B). This dispassion ultimately haunts the writing, the characters, and the story.
Nanci McCloskey (Director of Publicity): “An Abduction” by Tessa Hadley. I don’t know what it is about the world that Hadley is able to create in her short stories, but she captivates me every time. In “Abduction” she perfectly describe the lust and the awkwardness of adolescence. I’m never disappointed by her stories, and this one in particular, is a standout.