Most - though not all - of the stories on the latest Selected Shorts collection are funny enough to impair your driving, should you be listening to them in the car.
The series, which features classic and contemporary fiction read by actors and can be heard on public radio stations nationwide, truly shines in this three-disc set, which deftly marries well-known voices to well-loved material. Freda Foh Shen is wryly amusing in Amy Tan's comic mother/daughter piece Rules of the Game, while Stockard Channing alternately purrs and spits with a ferocious Southern accent while narrating Eudora Welty's timeless Why I Live at the P.O.
The always reliable David Strathairn blends humor and a distinctly ominous note to Donald Barthelme's minimalist Game, and Rene Auberjonois uses a plummy tone to perfection in Edgar Allan Poe's The Black Cat. Still, the Poe story seems positively breezy compared to the rising menace Christine Baranski unleashes in Joyce Carol Oates' Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, a disturbing - no, downright terrifying - story of sexual awakening.
Listen to Baranski's voice fall to a hush, shiver with dread, and then soothe yourself with the collection's third and funniest disc, which features the hilarious At the Anarchists' Convention by John Sayles, performed with brilliant comic timing by Jerry Stiller, and Carmen de Lavallade's rendition of Alice Walker's Everyday Uses, about an uneducated mother who can still outwit her educated, greedy, pretentious daughter. John Cheever's Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor rounds out the collection, read with
gusto by Malachy McCourt, who captures an elevator operator's plight on the holiday so effortlessly you can almost hear the twinkle in his eye.
Think you don't like short stories? Selected Stories will remind you why you should.