A Story A Day
Yesterday I brought home You've Got to Read This, a hefty 1994 anthology (ed. Ron Hansen and Jim Shepard) in which about three dozen of "today's leading fiction writers" introduce their favorite story. I like anthologies like this, because a critic you like can lead you to an author you have never heard of, and vice versa.
Charles Baxter, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Deborah Eisenberg, Amy Hempel, Edward P. Jones, Lorrie Moore, Francine Prose, Eudora Welty, Joy Williams, etc. introduce stories by a raft of writers, some nineteenth century (Dickens) or early twentieth (Joyce, Borges) but a fair number by writers who were living twenty years ago (Cheever, Carver) or are living now (Munro, Tim O'Brien). Why just "leading fiction writers," instead of including also some non-fiction writing critics? Never mind.
So I read "Labor Day Dinner" by Alice Munro. David Leavitt's introduction begins, "Few stories mean as much to me as Alice Munro's 'Labor Day Dinner,' which sounded enticing enough. I read the rest of the introduction only after finishing the story, and it was a fairly unenlightening intro. But the story (early for Munro: it was reprinted in a 1982 collection) is very compelling. A rather large cast (six women and two men, most of them important characters) interacting complexly. Munro introduces nearly all the characters before anything really gets going, which would usually be a fatal misstep. And she ends the story with near-violence that comes out of nowhere, also risky. It all works.
The story also moves from third-person omniscient into the POV of various characters by turn, which isn't easy. It is also told in the present tense. I suppose this shows that you can pull off anything, if you can pull it off.