'Best Of' Collections Offer a Mixed Bag of Literary Efforts Writers Muse on Family Relations in Top Essays of 1997

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The Best American Essays: 1997

Edited by Ian Frazier

Series editor Robert Atwan Houghton Mifflin 226 pp., $27 Inviting silent looks * I have since moved away from Minnesota, and old friends (those of the aforementioned June Cleaver-type stunned silence) have begun to ask if I have decided to stop wearing a nose stud now that my initial reason for acquiring it has passed. And here, to me, is the interesting part: the answer, categorically, is no. ...the glances of strangers seem less invasive, ...a long look is just that - a look- and what of it? I've invited it... - From 'Ring Leader' in 'The Best American Essays 1997' The essays included in "The Best American Essays 1997" may be diverse, but they don't appear to have been chosen randomly. Nearly all touch on issues having to do with family - reminiscences, regrets, sorrow, even humorous remembrances. The essays are chosen from a wide range of publications - from The Paris Review to the Oxford American, from The New Yorker to Esquire. And it's that diversity - the diversity of the essays themselves - that makes this compilation appealing. While readers may ask how in the world certain selections made their way through the screening process, they're likely to find others they would nominate themselves. Relationships with parents, sometimes good but often not, compel many of the writers to, as guest editor Ian Frazier puts it, "yield to the simple desire to tell." They yield, too, to the natural desire to sort out lives - to say, "This is what I thought 40 years ago, but this is what I think now." Or, "This is what my parents were like, and though I didn't understand them then, I think I understand them better now." Or even, "This happened in my life, it seems simple, but it helps define me." Hilton Als, in "Notes on My Mother," describes his fascination with his mother and his homosexuality, which she wouldn't acknowledge. In "Labyrinthine," Bernard Cooper tells of how, as a child, he loved to draw mazes, which his parents were always reluctant to try. …