In addition to finalist The Stories of Mary Gordon, 2006 saw the publication of a few other significant collections of new and selected stories by established writers. Joyce Carol Oates’s High Lonesome (Ecco Press) is a formidable assemblage of thirty-six stories spanning five decades, which showcase the author’s unflinching eye, prodigious talent, and consummate craft. The twenty-four new and selected stories in All Things, All at Once by Lee K. Abbott (W.W. Norton) display the daring, wit, exuberance, and generosity that have long made Abbott a writer much admired by other writers. Nancy Culpepper by Bobbie Ann Mason (Random House) collects seven stories about the title character, two of them new, that together span twenty-five years, from 1980 to 2005, and cover Nancy’s growth from a young newlywed to a middle-aged woman reevaluating her marriage. Her ties to her parents, her grandmother, and a long-dead namesake connect this well rendered character to her native Kentucky, which remains a vital part of her interior landscape long after she has left it.
Two additional superb collections of new stories by masters of the form, Deborah Eisenberg’s Twilight of the Superheroes (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and Joanna Scott’s Everybody Loves Somebody (Back Bay Books), consist entirely of new work. Eisenberg’s distinctive and beautifully textured stories have a contemporary focus and include a wistful post-9-11 story set in downtown Manhattan. Scott’s captivating, gemlike collection ranges over the twentieth century from just after World War I to the near present.
Like Mason’s Nancy Culpepper, several memorable books published in 2006 were books of connected stories or themed collections. The Good Works of Ayela Linde by Charlotte Forbes (Arcade Publishing) tells a charismatic but mysterious character’s story from the time she is 17 until she is 87 with each of the sixteen narratives presented from a different point of view and offering a unique perspective. The haunting, dreamlike stories in Cary Holladay’s The Quick Change Artist (Swallow Press) all take place in a resort hotel in a small, eccentric Virginia town over the course of many years. Edward Jones’s All Aunt Hagar’s Children (Amistad) collects fourteen richly details stories centered in and around Washington, D.C. A palpable sense of place is evoked through a precise and particular rendering of the city. Kathmandu, Nepal, is the setting of Samrat Upadhyay’s The Royal Ghosts (Mariner Books). It is a place with deep ties to the past in the midst of political upheaval and rapid cultural transformation that test the mettle of conflicted characters caught between tradition and change. Valerie Martin’s The Unfinished Novel and Other Stories (Vintage Books) concerns artists of one kind or another—painters, printmakers, actors, dancers, poets, and novelists. These stories unfold in richly detailed urban landscapes such as New York, Rome, and Martin’s native New Orleans.
Several exceptional collections published in 2006, in addition to the Texas and Montana settings of finalist Rick Bass’s The Lives of Rocks, are grounded in the contemporary American West. While not every story in Thomas McGuane’s Galatin Canyon (Alfred A. Knopf) occurs in Montana, the heart and soul of the collection lies in Big Sky country. One of the central tensions is between those who think in terms of land and those who think in terms of real estate. The insightful and heartbreaking stories of Antonya Nelson’s Some Fun (Scribner) take place across the West, in California, Colorado, Kansas, Montana, and Texas. Seattle and other parts of the state of Washington serve as the backdrop for some of the edgy and original stories in Charles D’Ambrosio’s The Dead Fish Museum (Alfred A. Knopf), which also memorably ranges east to Michigan’s Upper Penninsula and Iowa’s vast corn fields. The clever and startling stories in Ryan Boudinot’s The Littlest Hitler (Counterpoint) are likewise set in Washington, while Eastern Oregon is the home turf of Benjamin Percy’s The Language of Elk (Carnegie Mellon University Press), a bold and visceral debut collection.
The influence of finalist George Saunders’ satire and comedy is evident in debut collections published in 2006, such as Boudinot’s The Littlest Hitler and the inventive, post-modern, and often outré narratives of Third Class Superhero by Charles Yu (Harcourt). Other auspicious debuts include Scott Snyder’s Voodoo Heart (The Dial Press) with its imaginative and authentic stories. The First Hurt by Rachel Sherman (Open City Books) concerns young women who find themselves repelled and compelled by their newfound sexuality. Babylon and Other Stories by Alix Ohlin (Alfred A. Knopf) is a striking and assured collection with an impressive range of voices and characters. Ben Fountain’s Brief Encounters with Che Guevera (Ecco Press) brings Graham Greene into the 21st century with astutely observed and convincingly rendered tales of Americans abroad in Haiti, Colombia, Burma, and Sierra Leone.
These are just some of the many worthwhile short story collections published in 2006.