“Put away literary notions. Put away schoolchild considerations of theme and symbol and interpretation. Forget notions of allegory. If there is allegory here, it is the allegory of the self, as we find it in the best work of Poe, for instance: the hidden self of the writer and the unrealized self of the reader. It’s the sort of allegory that not only does not require analysis, but that actively struggles against it. Go back to the roots of storytelling and simply experience the stories the way you experience your dreams: directly, with unqualified immediacy, and with an admixture of fear and terrible joy.”Excellent advice and it makes what follows all the more chilling, because the editors have lined up some pretty powerful writers.
In Daniel Woodrell’s “The Echo of Neighborly Bones,” the opening sentence gives you a good sense of what this dream is going to be like: “Once Boshell finally killed his neighbor he couldn’t seem to quit killing him.” Robert Olen Butler’s “Help Me Find My Spaceman Lover” isn’t quite as gruesome, but it does invite the reader to believe the unbelievable, and the title pretty much tells us what’s at stake. George Singleton is here, too, as are Dean Paschal, both Benedicts, Benjamin Percy, Ann Pancake (whose “Dog Song” is incredibly hard for a dog lover to read), Lee Abbot, Chris Offutt, Ron Rash, Tom Franklin, William Gay, Julianna Baggott, Kyle Minor, and many others, including Joyce Carol Oates, whose story “The Bingo Master” is one of the best of hers I’ve ever read.
I don’t think it’s a book to try to read straight through. Rather, I’d read a story, put it down, savor it, and come back for the next one. But do come back, because the next one will blow you away.