Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundreds of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American series the most respected -- and most popular -- of its kind.
Lorrie Moore brings her keen eye for wit and surprise to the volume, and The Best American Short Stories 2004 is an eclectic and enthralling gathering of well-known voices and talented up-and-comers. Here are stories that probe the biggest issues: ambition, gender, romance, war. Here are funny and touching and striking tales of a Spokane Indian, the estranged wife of an Iranian immigrant, an American tutor in Bombay. In her introduction Lorrie Moore writes, "The stories collected here impressed me with their depth of knowledge and feeling of character, setting, and situation . . . They spoke with amused intelligence, compassion, and dispassion."
Moore takes a tried and true tack in this current edition of the popular series, choosing solid stories that rely more on careful character development and seamless writing than on inventiveness or stylistic flash. The results are occasionally stodgy, but there are plenty of satisfying entries, if few startling ones. Family relations are a recurring theme, and two stories of note unearth family ghosts. In John Edgar Wideman's "What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence," a man is enmeshed in the life of his deceased friend's jailed son; in Trudy Lewis's "Limestone Diner," a grandmother comes to terms with her past through the tragic accident of a local girl. Most stories are firmly rooted in the U.S., but a few roam cautiously afield. In "The Tutor," set in India, Nell Freudenberger explores the dynamics of an expatriate father and daughter relationship; "Mirror Studies" by Mary Yukari Waters takes place in Japan and interestingly weaves in monkey studies. The selection favors well-known writers, including Alice Munro, Annie Proulx and John Updike, and some readers may wish for a more varied lineup-the New Yorker is the source of eight of the 20 entries-but there's no arguing with the power of most of these offerings by the heavy hitters of the contemporary canon. (Oct.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.