Friday, January 11, 2013

Best American Short Stories 2012 and L.A. Outlaws are two fine reads

6. The Best American Short Stories 2012, edited by Tom Perrotta

To channel Forrest Gump, The Best American Short Stories 2012 is like a box of chocolates.

Except in this case, you know what you're going to get -- the finest chocolate, rich, creamy centers and . . . I've already exhausted this analogy.

But the point is that each of the 20 short stories in this annual collection deliver quality and delight in equal measure, but the pleasure is almost always unexpected because you do not know how the stories -- all so different -- will entertain you.

Alice Munro is here. Nathan Englander, Steven Millhauser, Kate Walbert.

My favorite stories were Anything Helps by Jess Walter, which forces you to look at those curbside pleas for funds by the homeless in a new way, and Tenth of December by George Saunders, a quirky tale in which a rescuer becomes the rescued.

7. L.A. Outlaws by T. Jefferson Parker

I need to read more T. Jefferson Parker.

He is a captivating writer.   I am always yammering about the importance of pace in thrillers.  Parker is a master of pacing, setting the hook early and then reeling the reader in page by page.

His characters are vivid, especially in L.A. Outlaws, which features a young Charlie Hood, and the writing is lively and engaging. Here's a passage from early in L.A. Outlaws:

"She showered and came out in a black slip and stood in front of him, and Hood lost most of what reason he had left. He carried her to bed. It was like two tornadoes competing for the same trailer park."

That's nice. Very nice.

Later, after Hood leaves his lover from the passage above observes: " . . . and by his expression I can see that I've shaved fifty points off his IQ."

The woman in the passage above is a school teacher pursued by a ghost-like killer, who believes she possess thousands of dollars in diamonds that he wants.

She is also a woman with a secret. She has an alter ego -- Allison Murietta, car thief and armed robber, who has captured the fancy of the L.A. press and public.

Charlie's dilemma is protecting a woman he has come to love, while bringing her to justice.

Finally, this doesn't rise to the level of a spoiler, but the manner in which our killer is dispatched is both inventive and fun. That single scene alone makes the books worth reading, but there's so much more.

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