Since its debut in 2004, Philadelphia Stories magazine has been presenting the literary and artistic work of writers from (of all places!) the Philadelphia area, and this collection brings together the best of the works that appeared in the magazine in its first two years. The best comparison I can make to this collection is the 2006 film Paris Je T'Aime, which I loved. If you saw Paris Je T'Aime, you know that it's composed of a series of short films set in and around Paris; in much the same way, this collection has a distinct Philadelphia vibe and might just as easily be called Philly Je T'Aime. In fact, The Best of Philadelphia Stories reads very much like a series of love-letters to Philadelphia, told from many perspectives and through many voices.
There are many excellent works in this collection, and picking my favorite is no easy task. If pressed, I'd lean toward works like Randall Brown's "Flies: Wet, Dry and In-Between" in which a fly-fishing enthusiast must learn to bend the rules in order to escape the ties that bind. Or the oddly surreal "Field Trip" by Greg Downs in which the narrator realizes, among other things, that he's not wearing any clothing. Or Julie Odell's "Blast," a tense, darkly humorous tale of one woman's efforts at leaving the man she kind-of loves as the building in which they live teeters on the edge of destruction. Or "The Prettiest Lie," an essay by Curtis Smith (author of The Species Crown, see below) that attempts to reconcile the infinite potential of childhood with the grim realities of life in the real world.
But to pick one story or even a handful of stories from this collection is unfair; they're all wonderful, and they all speak highly of the emerging voices of the Philadelphia literary scene. Without exception, the stories in this collection sparkle with life, and the only surprise is that so few of the authors' works have appeared in other literary journals. All of this is to say that The Best of Philadelphia Stories is a "must-read" not only for fans and friends of the City of Brotherly Love, but for lovers of good literature everywhere.
The anthology can be ordered at The Philadelphia Stories Store.