Cahill Expressway, Jeffrey Smart (as seen on cover of Peter Carey's The Fat Man in History)
HIGH ON ONE OF THE WALLS of Shearer’s Bookstore, an independent bookstore in the Sydney suburb Leichhardt, there is a banner suspended artfully, which reads “The ONLY Australian Bookshop to have launched A PULITZER PRIZE WINNER.” The capitals are theirs and the book in question is Geraldine Brooks’s March, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006. The book was launched on April 11, 2005 according to the floating sign. I spent a good ten minutes looking up at the sign — between browsing books — trying to figure out when it would have been raised and installed. It was, obviously, printed after Brooks won the prize, but Pulitzer Prizes are awarded in late May, meaning that the store printed the banner more than a year after the launch. It seems like a strange thing to celebrate, but it only proves the importance of American recognition to the Australian book industry and its writers.
This is not a review of The Best American Short Stories 2011 — or at least it is not a review of any of the stories that have made it into its pages. Don’t let the byline mislead you. How do you review something that has already been deemed the Best without wasting significant essaying time denouncing the whole idea of anthologizing? I can only think of bad puns anyway: “middling at Best.” I’m not interested in writing a beat down on American short fiction, a la Elif Batuman's holier-than-thou write up of the 2004 and 2005 Best American Short Stories collections in n+1.
Instead there is an opportunity here to isolate Geraldine Brooks’s introduction, indeed her role as editor, and to meander elsewhere (definitively elsewhere). The route for this elsewhere doesn’t involve a beat down of Brooks as editor either. Her credentials are solid, at least when it comes to American-ness. The only possible slight against Brooks might be that she admits in her opening words to not being a short story writer.
But here is a hell of a question: What of her Australianness?
It is not necessary for the editor of the Best American series to be American — Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie had edited earlier versions of the anthology — but there must be some connection with the country to take such a position. Brooks became an American citizen in 2002, while retaining her Australian passport, and had spent years as a foreign correspondent before that. Her father was American — a Californian musician who travelled to Australia to play in a dance hall band, and was stranded in the country after they ran out of money. This duality is evident on her austere website where she breaks her public appearances down into ‘Events USA’ and ‘Events Australia’. Brooks felt the urge to write an essay explaining why she had never written a novel set in Australia (the easy line to make here is that this article was published in the The Washington Post rather than an equivalent Australian publication) and the necessity to take up a defensive position is common for expatriate writers.
Brooks is defined as otherworldly by Series Editor Heidi Pitlor who, after having passed on the 120 stories she had whittled down for Brooks to choose from, writes in her introduction to Brooks’s introdu...read more