|PDF eBook, 281 pages|
Published 2012 (contents: 1973-96)
Read June 2013
This volume collects Ursula Le Guin's personal favorites from amongst her realistic short stories, though "realistic" is a little broadly defined, as it includes not only ordinary literary realism, but but stories set in her made-up Central European country of Orsinia and some with sf or fantasy elements, and at least one that is overt fantasy. Delightfully, all of them were new to me (I suspect that if I'd read Volume Two, that would have been different).
I was surprised by how much I liked the Orisinian tales: "Brothers and Sisters," which opens the book, was probably my favorite story in the book, an observant tale of two groups of siblings in a (I think) late-nineteenth-century mining town, all of them trying to figure out growing up and their places in the world. For all that it takes place in a made-up country, it felt very real. "A Week in the Country" and "Unlocking Air" were also quite good, and I absolutely loved "The Diary of the Rose," an sf tale set in a country that seems a lot like Orsinia, about a doctor in a mental hospital assigned to "cure" a patient whose only disease is disagreeing with the state. Heart-wrenching, ultimately.
"Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Out Tonight," about a girl who survives a plane crash and is adopted by a coyote, was another strong installment, justly oft-praised. "Sleepwalkers," which is about a group of people at an Oregon coastal hotel, was also really quite good; it's a group of characters who are all watching each other, and you jump from perspective to perspective, and see how no observation is ever right, even if some are much closer than others. "Hand, Cup, Shell" has a similar feeling, as a graduate student interviews the wife of a deceased education professor for her supervisor's book, and ends up involved in his family for a day.
I wanted to like "The Water Is Wide," about a widowed brother who is committed, and the only person who cares for him is his widowed sister, but despite a strong start it got weird, and not in a good way. "Horse Camp," about a group of characters at a riding camp, wasn't really about enough to work, and I didn't get the point of "Ether, OR," about an Oregon town that moves around, though it certainly had its moments. The only stuff that didn't really work at all were the short, more observational stories, like "The Lost Children," "Texts" (what a great idea, though), or "The Direction of the Road."
Overall, it's every bit as good as I'd expected a collection of Le Guin's best short stories would be. I must seek out the second volume at some point.