Short story review from The Best American Short Stories 2006: “The Casual Car Pool” by Katherine Bell

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom. Short reviews of short fiction. This selection comes from the 2006 edition of The Best American Short Stories, edited by Ann Patchett.

“The Casual Car Pool”

Katherine Bell

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When a parachute jumper snags his chute on the ropes of the Bay Bridge that leads to San Francisco, readers get a look inside the lives of three strangers in a car pool. The driver, Ian, has picked up his passengers in Oakland and they are stalled just near the end of the Yerba Buena tunnel. A woman named Hannah sits in the front seat and Julia, fifteen, sits in the back. In the beginning, they follow ridesharing’s unspoken rules. No conversation except maybe the traffic and weather.

Ian, Hannah and Julia may not say much, but their actions and their thoughts tell their back stories. Ian is married, but just that morning backed out of their driveway and thought, “If I wanted to, I could leave today and never go back.” Hannah holds in her lap a thick manilla envelope with sperm donor candidates. Annoyed that morning at her lover, Kate, she grabbed it before showing it to her. Julia has skipped school and is headed to meet a Mormon runaway named Isaac, where they will panhandle for money that she will hand over to him at the end of the day.

Meanwhile the jumper hangs and realized that “somehow, by jumping, he had stopped the morning.”

I’ve always liked how short stories reveal just a segment of people’s lives. Here, I like the details the author decided to include. By including only a few details, Bell shows how her characters act in that moment and with only a hint of what will happen after the story ends. Bell’s story touches on relationships and parenthood, privilege and need and the impact strangers can have on your thoughts.

About the Author (taken from the back of this 2006 edition and from Ploughshares):

“Katherine Bell grew up in Cardiff, Wales, and New Jersey. “The Casual Car Pool” was her second story published in Ploughshares. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she currently works as online managing editor at Cook’s Illustrated, teaches writing at Harvard Extension School and Lesley University, and blogs for the Huffington Post. She is also working on her first novel and a book about quilting.

I highly recommend these collections of Best American Short Stories. I’ve never been disappointed by the stories I’ve read.

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

17 thoughts on “Short story review from The Best American Short Stories 2006: “The Casual Car Pool” by Katherine Bell

    1. Hi Darlene – I just love these collections. I have at least 4 of them, from years ago and I’m still working my way through them. I usually pick them up at second-hand book sales. A great buy! Thanks for the visit and for commenting. I agree with you about the difficulty of writing a short story.

      1. I pick up short-story collections too at second-hand stores. I have one by Roald Dahl. Oh my, he is good. Margaret Atwood and Alice Monroe are two other expert short story writers.

      2. I haven’t read any of Roald Dahl’s short stories. I’ll have to try. I agree with you about Atwood and Monroe – I’ve read many short stories by them and they are excellent.

  1. I have some of these collections too, and wish I had all of them. As you say, they seldom disappoint. I’m a big fan of short stories, and I’d love to read this one.

    1. Hi Jan – I also wish I had them all – I think I have 4 or 5, but I haven’t read all the stories in them, so there’s a lot of good stuff just waiting for me. Thank you for stopping by and commenting. I hope you are doing well. Good luck with your new draft – I read your post on my phone but wasn’t able to comment there. 🙂

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