Shop this article on Amazon.com
New American Stories by Ben Marcus
The book features 32 short stories by a who's who of contemporary American fiction, from heavy-hitters such as Anthony Doerr (author of All the Light We Cannot See), Don DeLillo and Zadie Smith, to more obscure masters and emerging stars on the literary scene.
The anthology is in many ways a successor to 2004's The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, also edited by Marcus, which is considered one of the great anthologies of all-time for its unprecedented mixture of styles and voices and approaches to form.
Each of the stories in New American Stories provides its own unique and exciting emotional experience. From George Saunders's "Home" to Kelly Link's "Valley of the Girls," Charles Yu's "Standard Loneliness Package" to Rebecca Lee's "Slatland," the range and diversity in its pages makes New American Stories the kind of book that never feels fully read. And that's why you'll want to have it around, for those moments when you just want to be barraged and overwhelmed by something terrifying and beautiful and new.
Over email, Marcus answered questions about his approach to editing the anthology, why he loves short stories and his favorite story ever.
Andrew Eisenman: Your introduction to the anthology has been getting a lot of attention on the Internet. It serves as a kind of love letter to the short story. When did you discover short fiction and what were the early stories or authors that seduced you?
Ben Marcus: I read stories in high school, I'm sure, but it probably wasn't until college that I became obsessed. I had a few anthologies. 20 Under 30, edited by Debra Spark. Matters of Life and Death, edited by Tobias Wolff. An anthology called Anti-Story. I read Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Joy Williams. Then Robert Coover, Donald Barthelme, John Barth, Stephen Dixon. I backed my way into Chekov and Hemingway, and then of course Flannery O'Connor, Grace Paley, Kaye Chopin, Lorrie Moore, Tillie Olsen. Cynthia Ozick's "The Shawl" had a big impact on me. Mary Gaitskill "” so ferociously good. I'm leaving out too many good people "” just as I did with New American Stories.
AE: What was the process like for selecting the stories that did make it in?
BM: Reading and reading and reading. Making piles. Rereading. Getting recommendations from friends, writers, editors. Reading. Seeing how stories rubbed up against one another. Reading all the stories together and wondering what was missing, what was redundant, what should change.
AE: The book features stories by some very well known writers as well as more obscure or emerging ones. In addition, more than half the stories are by women. Why was capturing the range"”of voices, of styles"”so important to you?
BM: Showing the range of stories that are out there is just a better way to demonstrate how bottomlessly pliable, diverse, and fascinating an art form the short story is. It's a pretty good argument for the vitality of the form, and I also think it shows that there is still much more to do, room for stories to grow and change.
AE: What makes the stories in this collection "new"? What makes them "American"?
BM: Imagine an anthology called Old Stories from Nowhere.
These here are called "new" because they were mostly written in the last ten years. "American" because they were written here, by people in residence. I'd love sometime to do an anthology of international stories, because there is so much great work out there. But without a time frame, and a rough geographical corset, the project would have been impossible.
AE: It's been 11 years since your first anthology, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories"”which is widely considered one of the great short fiction anthologies of all time. Why did you decide to do another one now? Have your tastes changed over the years?
BM: Working on an anthology allows me to drown myself in new stories. I can catch up on all of the good fiction I've been hearing about. I hope my tastes have changed, and that they will keep changing, but that kind of thing is hard to track. I still love to read the kind of stories I've never seen before, and I also love to see traditional styles done beautifully.
AE: As a writer and teacher of writing, what about the act of anthologizing appeals to you?
BM: When I was a student, certain stories blew my head off. They showed me what was possible; they inspired and provoked me. I like the idea that, as a teacher, I can think about what a student writer might most benefit from reading at any given time in their development. I like to see where students are with their own writing, along with what they are reading, and serve them up some fiction that will speak directly to them, showing them what can be done, helping them test and enlarge their own sense of what their fiction can be.
AE: Do you have a favorite short story of all time?
BM: It might be a toss-up between any story in Everything That Rises Must Converge, by Flannery O'Connor.
AE: When I hear "anthology," I think of those tomb-sized Norton books we were required to buy in college. Is anthology the right word to describe what New American Stories is? How would you describe it?
AE: Of the stories in the collection, which to you is the most thrilling? The most surprising? The funniest? The most heartbreaking?
BM: I can't play favorites. These thirty-two stories are included in this book because they all blow up these categories, in various ways. Pinning a single adjective to any of these stories, or even trying to isolate some specific achievement of one of them, seems unnecessarily sad.