I'm a little behind on my Best American reading. I request these books every year for Christmas (I used to buy them for myself, but it's gotten a bit expensive...but they make great Christmas gifts!), and I received this one for Christmas in 2010. I have 2010 and 2011 sitting on the TBR shelves. I've FINALLY cracked open the first of three 2010 volumes (I also collect the Mystery Stories and Non-Required Reading books). I finished this one last night, and, as usual, it was fantastic!
There were only a couple of stories in this volume that I felt would not have been MY picks for "best" short stories of the year. Jim Shepard's "The Netherlands Lives with Water" and Charles Baxter's "The Cousins" didn't capture me. I think Jim Shepard is much, much smarter than I am, because I didn't understand much of his story. Of course, it was set 25 years in the future, and dealt with the rising sea levels that were threatening to overwhelm the Netherlands, but I felt like I was missing something reading this one. And that I find unfortunate, because I have Shepard's Like You'd Understand, Anyway sitting on the TBR shelves.
If you can only catch a couple of these stories, however, or if you are looking for something to dip your toes into for Short Story Monday, I HIGHLY recommend Jennifer Egan's "Safari" (the hype about Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad seems justified, if this story is anything to go by). Also, I really loved Tea' Obreht's "The Laugh" and Wells Tower's "Raw Water." In fact, if you read only one story in the collection, let it be "Raw Water." Both "The Laugh" and "Raw Water" shared an ominous sense of foreboding, foreshadowing of the best (or worst) kind. I love it when I can tell from the beginning of the story that something terrible is going to happen. In "The Laugh," that terrible thing is tangible, explored, overt. In "Raw Water," Tower dances around the terrible thing, and that makes it all the more horrifying. Gave me chills, honestly.
The rest of the stories were perfectly serviceable, but nothing to write home about. Usually, I give this collection a five, but I'm giving this incarnation four out of five Whatevers. Maybe it was me (I read quite a few of the stories while I was sick, and am having trouble recalling the details of many of them), maybe the collection is suffering from the demise of the printed word, with print magazines falling by the wayside in swaths, or maybe I don't recognize great literature when it smacks me in the face. But this collection was more uneven than I remember others being. Still highly recommended as my favorite source of short stories, but with a slight reservation this year.