Michael Nye’s Top 10

Michael Nye is the managing editor of the Missouri Review. He has completed his debut story collection, Strategies Against Extinction, (Queen’s Ferry Press, 2012). Nye wrote: I’m not sure if any story can definitively labeled “best” but these are the stories that have, for years, engaged and haunted me. Here are my choices in no particular order:

1."Freedom, A Theory Of," Lee K. Abbott - A father who has long abandoned his family returns to beat up his adult son. There are many Lee stories that have been anthologized over the years, and perhaps they are "better," but this was the one that always left me in wonder, where the voice of the narrator was dead-on, and the charm and tension of the golf "reunion" made me a little giddy.2."The Ceiling," Kevin Brockmeier - I read this in grad school. A marriage crumbles, their son is caught in the middle, all while a large obsidian ceiling comes lowers over their town. Which, of course, everyone ignores, even as building start collapsing. What is the ceiling? That's the thing: a symbol stands for something specific. A+B=C. The ceiling is an image. It holds a variety of meanings that can't fully be explained. And that mystery is what stayed with me for a very long time.
3."A Father's Story," Andre Dubus - Picking one Dubus story is like giving a starving man a menu. I've written about Dubus on The Missouri Review's blog, and I'll just go ahead and paraphrase: At the end of the story, Luke, the protagonist, is talking to God. Not in a “Footsteps” kind of way either, but in a way that is plausible and true and heart-wrenching. It is the kind of ending that shouldn't work. No one should get away with an ending like that. But Dubus doesn't just get away with it, but achieves a remarkable level of grace and tragedy in that final scene that is one of the best I've ever read. 4."Where I'm Calling From," Raymond Carver - For my money, this is Carver's best story. The unnamed narrator, drying out in an alcohol rehab facility, desperately trying not to think or talk about his own life, begins recognizing that "This is me" before picking up the phone in the end. The scene where his wife asks him to close the blinds and come back to bed makes me tear up every time.
5."Runaway," Alice Munro - Like with many on this list, picking one story by a particular author is a difficult task, with many right answers. Why this one? Because I was genuinely surprised by the ending in a way that made me immediately go back and re-read the entire thing. 6."Sonny's Blues," - James Baldwin - One of Baldwin's most famous stories, and rightfully so: each sentence is heartbreaking and tender, even in its anger. Tragedy is awfully hard to do in contemporary fiction, and yet there is something joyous about Baldwin's story, too.
7."Accountant," - Ethan Canin - This is the first story in the collection "The Palace Thief" which is one of my favorite books, period. The pitch and tone and rhythm of the narrator's voice is perfect from the first paragraph and holds through the entire novella, a story of an accountant and a fantasy baseball camp and the choices he has made in his life and career. Laced with sadness and regret, it's also poignant and surprising at all the right moments. 8."Sarah Cole: A Type of Love Story," Russell Banks - I'm not sure if any other story has taught me so much about point of view. Or about the unreliable narrator. Or about lust and love. Or about how to make a story seem new every time I re-read it. If I underlined every good sentence, I'd have this entire story colored in highlighter.
9."Gryphon," Charles Baxter - Another heavily underlined story. And like Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants," this is a story that is as much about seeing the world in metaphor, in being child-like, being eccentric and wonderful and human ... and how the world doesn't want you to be that way. 10."In the Cemetery Where Al Jolston is Buried," Amy Hempel - I'll say it: the ending of this story makes me cry every time, even though I've read it two dozen times. That's why the story is hard for me to teach - I don't want to start sobbing in front of my students (I wish this was a joke, but it isn't).
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