Jonathan Santlofer & S.J. Rozan (editors). The Dark End of the Street: New Stories of Sex and Crime by Today’s Top Authors. Bloomsbury, 2010. (126 of) 291 pages.
When I was in college, I took a creative writing course: a workshop of a couple dozen inexperienced, untalented undergrads, writing to an assignment – all rough drafts, and most of us not taking it any more seriously than we would a term paper. That’s what this book reminds me of. They’re not all completely terrible, but of the nine stories I read, only one is worth reading. Several are so badly written that I couldn’t get through more than a couple pages of them.
Your first clue that something is wrong should be the fact that the stories are arranged in alphabetical order by author. It seems innocent, but if the editors aren’t willing to single someone out to go first, it doesn’t bode well for their willingness to do any actual editing. The second clue is in the introduction, where one of the editors expresses his delight that writers were willing to have their work published in his book. Maybe if I’d picked up the book in a store, I might have noticed the clues and put it back down. But I got it free from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program, and was therefor obligated to read the thing, or at least give it a chance.
The problem with a bad collection of short stories (or, one of the many problems) is the difficulty in deciding when to stop giving it a chance. I mean, sure, it’s been bad so far, but the rest of the book is written by different people, and maybe they’re good, right? But probably not, if the editors’ taste and judgment so far is any indication. Eventually I decided to stop short of Jonathan Lethem’s contribution (about halfway through the book). I’ve heard good things about Lethem, but I’ve never read him, and I don’t want him to be ruined for me through association with this book.