Every year the “Best American” collections offer a tasty sampling of essays, short stories, travel writing, even comics. It’s like a literary box of chocolates. USA TODAY dips into four diverse titles.
The Best American Comics 2017
Ben Katchor, guest editor
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 371 pp.
★★★ out of four
This year’s roundup of indie comics from graphic novels, magazines and the Internet is a mix of the surreal and the real. There are plenty of interesting oddities in this latest collection — Ben Duncan’s “Get In Where U Fit In” imagines a guy trying to find his way in an orgy where everybody looks like a balloon animal. Kim Deitch’s “Shrine of the Monkey God” revolves around a legend of primates from space. The more down-to-Earth stuff plays the best, such as Mike Taylor’s slice-of-life “Ranchero” centering on delinquent teen girls. The Trump era is well-represented with Eli Valley’s “Schlonged!,” a grotesquerie about the president’s obsession with size, and Sam Alden’s “Test of Loyalty,” in which an illegal immigrant’s co-workers rally around her. And the autobiographical entries are great: Dapper Bruce Lafitte’s “I Am Better Than Picasso” artistically chronicles Muhammad Ali’s boxing career, and excerpts from Ed Piskor’s “Hip Hop Family Tree” offer enjoyable tales of Ice-T and the making of seminal rap movie Krush Groove.
— Brian Truitt
The Best American Short Stories 2017
Meg Wolitzer, guest editor
Mariner, 280 pp.
The 2016 election is very much on the mind of guest editor Meg Wolitzer in her introduction to the Best American Short Stories. But if any theme emerges strongly here, it’s not angst about our current president. Rather it’s sex, sexuality and every storyteller’s favorite meme, ambiguity. In Chad B. Anderson’s “Maidencane,” a young Baltimore man seems untroubled by juggling both a girlfriend and a boyfriend. In Jai Chakrabarti’s “A Small Sacrifice for an Enormous Happiness,” a gay man in India, his male lover and his lover’s wife engage in a delicate dance of deception. In Leopoldine Core’s “Hog for Sorrow,” a young, well-educated prostitute carries a torch for a female co-worker. Many of these stories, while…