A young man, fearing a lifetime of dead-end jobs lies ahead for him, runs away to join the circus. After chance encounter with a suicidal stranger a Powell’s Bookstore employee is jolted into examining his own life. The hardscrabble central California town Merced is overflowing with poor, teen moms and one 30-something local teacher would like to know why. A dentist his and son find themselves honored house guests of an eccentric whose private castle deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains is stocked wall to wall with Nazi memorabilia. Looking back on her years as a teen runaway hitchhiking across America, a woman suspects she narrowly escaped the hands of a notorious serial killer.
These stories, in addition to a number of others are the subjects for the essays found in The Best American Essays 2013. You might remember from an earlier post I’d developed a craving for longform journalism prompting me to borrow a pair of Best American Essays collections. I’ll admit, I was pessimistic about having Cheryl Strayed as editor, fearing she’d got the job solely based on the success of her book Wild. But once I dived into this collection and began enjoying the essays I quickly learned Strayed was up to the job. (I also learned she’s written more than just Wild. Plus, I also remembered one her essays appeared in The Best American Essays 2015.) I even enjoyed this collection of essays more than the one from 2015. So much for me doubting the editing talents of Cheryl Strayed!
Like any anthology, there are contributions I liked and some, well, I didn’t. One of my favorites from this collection is “The Girls In My Town” by Angela Morales. In her piece Morales reflects on the high prevalence of teen moms in her hometown of Merced, CA. Another favorite was Vanessa Vaselka’s piece from GQ. As a teen runaway she hitchhiked across the country begging rides from long haul truck drivers. Chances are while doing so she had a close encounter with convicted serial killer Robert Ben Rhoades. I also enjoyed Poe Ballantine’s “Free Rent At the Totalitarian Hotel” about life in a run-down hotel during the late 80s. As for essays that weren’t favorites, just like with Best American Essays 2015 it was Zadie Smith’s contribution. (Maybe I should give her fiction a try. Who knows, maybe it’s more to my liking.)
From start to end this is a pretty good collection of essays and goes a long way to satisfying my craving for longform writing. I must say I’ve developing quite a taste for this stuff. Therefore, look for more essay collections featured on my blog.