The problem with year end "best of" lists is that you inevitably end up compiling said list only to quickly discover something you'd have added, had you been aware of its existence, at the time. With only a month since I compiled my own Best of 2011 list, I have already discovered that something, namely Seth Fried's collection of short stories, The Great Frustration. Thanks to Allan for selecting this.
This book is tailor made for me to enjoy. I prefer short stories over novels, so that's something. I like my short stories just a tad quirky, without being over the top (see Vonnegut, O'Connor, Wallace, and Carver) while willing to address serious themes (see same, plus Dubus). I like stories that take me by surprise without seeming like they're intending to do so, maybe with just a turn of phrase that is unusual or unexpected. When I discovered the short stories of Owen Egerton, a few years back, his collection How Best To Avoid Dying provided everything I want in a short story collection. A couple years after, and Amelia Gray did the same. Now I can Seth Fried to that list.
His stories are deceptively weird, deceptively because they consistently address the very real anxieties that come with being alive. Whether it's the strange tension that exists within the animal kingdom before the fall of man or the annual picnic right out of Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery," Fried uses the unnerving and unnatural as a way of drawing our attention to how strange our "normal" can be.
In doing so, Fried also offers up healthy helpings of hilarity. While the underlying subject matter may deal with a darker drama, the ways it plays out are uproariously funny. Fried's deft handling of the tragic and comic makes for a combination both wicked and winning. These stories were, in a word, a joy.