In his folksy introduction to the fourth volume of short stories by Southern writers, Sonny Brewer waxes poetic about the writer's life, who can and who can't and who gets to judge. He promises to keep his nose to the ground, so to speak, in search of those writers waiting to be discovered by a ready audience.
The first selection in an anthology sometimes determines whether a reader continues, but since I want to read the selections by my favorite authors, I decide to try a few more pages. If I hadn't been familiar with the earlier editions, I might have put the book aside. I didn't. "The Good Neighbors" by John Boyet is more to my liking, a sly insinuation of evil intentions behind the facade of good Christian neighbors.
"Chicken Bone Man," a fiction about 1927 Memphis by Anna Olswanger, has an afterward to clarify its subject matter. "Down There on a Visit" by renowned poet Charles Simic has footnotes, but this story bears the same authenticity as his poetry. Simic writes of a new segregation, more subtle but just as devastating, “there is a caste system with clear class distinctions and accompanying inequality... there are towns... that in their shocking poverty make one gasp.” Simic’s travels through the South yield profound, even frightening observations of religion wedded to politics.
Rick Bragg's short offering "Dear Friend" is a letter of condolence to a family which has lost one of its own, nearly as precious as a child. There is a small selection of poetry by Andrea Hollander Budy, "Those Summer Sundays" and "An Explanation," speaking to the high price of love. In "Spleen", Ann Fisher-Wirth notes the passing of natural species in pursuit of increased campus participation on the campus of Ole Miss; "Where, Beneath the Magnolia" is a history-laden paean to Faulkner's legacy.
Kristin Grant writes about the extremes of segregation in “Strawberry Fizzle,” a short story with a shocking ending. Of course, Suzanne Hudson’s prose is impeccable, as always, in “That Thing with Feathers,” a poignant and shocking story of a young girl’s loss of innocence, all wrapped up in need and confusion until she seizes on a life-changing way out of an untenable situation. This story alone is worth the price of admission.
Like poetry, short stories are subjective, their appeal uniquely personal. This anthology offers the writers’ fresh perspective on the South, the regional traits that define the genre. Although I have enjoyed other recent collections more (Matthew Kneale’s Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance, Christopher Coake’s We’re In Trouble), this uneven group, much like Stories III, does have a number of well-written selections, most notable the superior Suzanne Hudson’s.