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The Best American Short Stories [Paperback]

Lorrie Moore , Katrina Kenison
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 462 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (14 Oct 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618197354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618197354
  • Product Dimensions: 20.8 x 13.9 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,174,828 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Too busy to read novels? Dip into this 21 May 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is one of a series to dip into if not in the mood for a novel. A good way to discover writers work you may not previously have read. Well known authors: Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, and John Updike have slots here. I became hooked on short stories many years ago. They are in every way as good as novels. These stories are gleaned by the series editor from a huge range of magazines such as, The New Yorker, Harper's, and Granta. It's an accolade for any writer, even for best selling authors, to be included in these collections. If too busy or tired to get stuck into a novel, the short story is the answer to that.

This is also a very good series for neophyte writers and students of literature to read. They're cost effective too. What you get are twenty varied, fascinating stories, for less than the price of many novels. Even the introductions are a good read. I highly recommend this one published in 2004, and the whole series.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  15 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fine anthology from BASS 13 April 2005
By Debbie Lee Wesselmann - Published on Amazon.com
The 2004 Best American Short Stories collection, edited by Lorrie Moore, is the fattest BASS anthology yet. With stories by Sherman Alexie, T.C. Boyle, Deborah Eisenberg, Paula Fox, Jill McCorkle, Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, John Edgar Wideman, and John Updike, among others, the collection features a wide range of writers, most well known. Many stories come from The New Yorker (eight), a couple from Harper's, but the rest were originally published in some of the country's best, relatively small literary journals: Tin House, Granta, The Missouri Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Zyzzyva.

Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem" follows a homeless Native American man living spreading good will and fortune among his destitute friends, none of whom have much hope except in the moment of a brief celebration. Deborah Eisenberg's "Some Other, Better Otto" traces the psychological crisis of a gay man whose relationship with his partner is the only functional one in an otherwise dysfunctional family. In "Runaway", Alice Munro portrays two lonely women as they try to find strength in lies and fantasy, even as a harsher reality awaits each. Mary Yukari Waters's "Mirror Studies" turns primate and nature studies inward, toward a man who faces his mortality.

In the past ten years or so, the BASS anthology has gotten more and more predictable, with a heavy emphasis toward the traditional, and while the trend is not broken by this volume, I was pleased to discover some messier stories - narratives such as Edward P. Jones's "A Rich Man" that are not tightly controlled and instead are allowed to breathe. Still, as long as Houghton Mifflin continues to choose New Yorker writers as editors, this is what readers will see in the series.

While different readers will appreciate different stories, most will find several that will stick with them. If you like cutting edge stories, I suggest getting the latest Pushcart Prize collection instead, a series that ignores the commercial publications in favor of the small literary press.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Now appearing, by popular demand... 26 Nov 2004
By cs211 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
First, let me state that I always recommend both the "Best American" and "O. Henry" annual short story anthologies to anyone with a modicum of interest in present-day American literature. By reading these volumes, you get exposed to a wide variety of some (but by no means all) of the best stories by some of our best writers (or at least those writers who produce in the short story format). A well-written short story is an easily consumed treat that also teaches something new about the human condition. Given the time constraints of modern-day life, it's surprising that short stories are not more popular. But certainly these anthologies deserve a wide audience.

I will also warn that, since interpreting works of art is subjective, others will have different reactions to the stories in this volume. My interpretation of the choices that Lorrie Moore made in putting this volume together was that she erred on the side of including instantly recognizable (but therefore not terribly innovative) stories by well-known authors, as well as including lengthier selections. Although the selections are made blind, without knowledge of the author's name, the pieces by Edward P. Jones, Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, John Updike, Mary Yukari Waters and John Edgar Wideman are all very recognizable via their subject matter and writing styles. Length, meanwhile, negates two of the main attributes of a good short story: brevity and pithiness. E.B. White, who always advocated using as few words as possible to communicate an idea, would not be pleased with all of Moore's selections.

My favorite story in the 2004 volume is Thomas McGuane's "Gallatin Canyon", a true masterpiece of a short story written in the O. Henry style. Not a word is wasted, and every seemingly innocent or minor event quickly builds towards a life-or-death conclusion that exposes the nature of the main characters. It is a model for how to apply the classical short story form in the 21st century. The most innovative story is Stuart Dybek's "Breasts", which is truly (as Lorrie Moore so well characterizes) a Quentin Tarantino film transformed into short story format. However, like a Tarantino film, after all the violence has ended and the last joke has been played out, I find myself asking "yes, but what is the point?". Other notable stories, I felt, were T. Coraghessan Boyle's suspenseful modern day working-class romance "Tooth and Claw", and Edward P. Jones' "A Rich Man", which presents a view into the culture of inner-city Washington D.C. that has produced, among other things, the TV images of Mayor Marion Barry smoking a crack pipe.

My least favorite stories in this volume were Trudy Lewis's "Limestone Diner", which I felt was instantly forgettable, and, I'm sad to say, Annie Proulx's "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?". Normally I really enjoy Ms. Proulx's work, but I felt that in this story she was just painting by the numbers, by invoking too many clichés: the Vietnam War as a conscious-raising event, the evil energy companies who are even more damaging to the environment than cattle-herding ranchers, and even a homosexual son who falls for the beefcake ranch hand.

All in all, the 2004 edition of the Best American Short Stories serves up a wide variety of different slices of present-day American life. While not the best volume in the series, it is well worth reading.
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lorrie Moore Does Excellent Job of Choosing Stories 16 Oct 2004
By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Published on Amazon.com
Lorrie Moore, renowned short story writer whose Birds of America is one of her best collections has edited and chosen twenty American short stories. The stories, as she confesses herself, tend to be longish, 20-30 pages for the most part. In the back of the book the writers give their accounting of the stories, explaining how the stories were set into motion and even touch on some important themes. Eight of the twenty stories, almost half, were chosen from The New Yorker. Its dominance as a source of "best" stories is somewhat disconcerting. Can one magazine really be that good? I don't know. I admire Lorrie Moore so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt. In any event, the anthology's contents follow:

1. What You Pawn I Will Redeem by Sherman Alexie
2. Tooth and Claw by T. Coraghessan Boyle
3. Written in Stone by Catherine Brady
4. Accomplice by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
5. Screen writer by Charles D'Ambrosio
6. Breasts by Stuart Dybek
7. Some Other, Better Otto by Deborah Eisenberg
8. Grace by Paula Fox
9. The Tutor by Nell Freudenberger
10. A Rich Man by Edward P. Jones
11. Limestone Diner by Trudy Lewis
12. Intervention by Jill McCorkle
13. Gallatin Canyon by Thomas McGuane
14. Runaway by Alice Munro
15. All Saints Day by Angela Pneuman
16. What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick? by Annie Proulx
17. Docent by R.T. Smith
18. The Walk with Elizanne by John Updike
19. Mirror Studies by Mary Yukari Waters
20. What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over by John Edgar Wideman

Highlight of the collection for me is "Runaway" by Alice Munro. It is a well developed profile of a bullying husband and his effete, sympathetic, girlish wife and the story is haunting in the way it renders a dysfunctional couple and the wife's decision to choose a familiar hell over the fear of the unknown. Her imprisonment is all too common and explores universal themes of the way people acclimate themselves to a quiet, seething domestic inferno. In many ways Munro's story reminds me of a John Cheever classic, "Just Tell Me Who It Was."
17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am in love again 17 Oct 2004
By Joseph E. Kyle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I never start at the beginning of a short story anthology because I don't want to submit to somebody else's idea of what is "first" among the "best". No, I like to begin on my own terms. This year my strategy was two-fold. First I would skip past anything that had been published in The New Yorker. From there I would try and identify something roughish and experimental. I chose "Docent" strictly because it had been published in The Missouri Review. Oh, did someone open a window? Now I remember what great writing is. I could not put the volume down and long before I finished reading R.T. Smith's brilliantly refreshing story, I knew I had already received my moneys worth.

When I had recovered my breath, I challenged Lorrie Moore in no small way. I mean to say I began at the beginning of the volume with Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem". (Published in The New Yorker - crow is good with ketchup.) After the first page I realized I should have started this anthology from the beginning. "What You Pawn I Will Redeem" is a devastatingly wonderful story. And had I read it first I STILL would have had "Docent" to look forward to.

I skimmed the table on contents - Annie Proulx and John Updike? What are these two lumbering giants doing in here? (I am a student of both authors.) Updike is probably in here because he's old and they're just doing him a favor. WRONG! "The Walk with Elizanne" is not only one of the finest Updike stories I've ever read; it is one of the best STORIES I have ever read! Let none of us question the Master's work. Updike hits one way out of the ballpark with this story. Thank you Sir.

As of yet I have not read much more but the news about this volume had to be told. If it only contained these three stories (and who knows what other gems sleep within?) it would have been well worth the asking price. Buy it, read it, put it in the pile you would save if your house were on fire.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for killing time 30 Nov 2004
By J. Stout - Published on Amazon.com
Something that stands out to me about this edition, certainly this was no accident, is how each of the stories draws a picture of an American landscape. Notable in their attention to setting are "What You Pawn I Will Redeem" (Seattle from the point of view of a homeless man), "Grace" (anomie in New York City), "A Rich Man" (poverty in Washington, D.C.), "Limestone Diner" (small town Missouri), "Gallatin Canyon" and "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" (the New West), "Docent" (a DAR who gives tours at Washington and Lee University) and "All Saints Day" (evangelical eastern Kentucky). Not all of the stories take place in the USA, however. "Runaway" is set in rural Canada, and "The Tutor" describes the inner life of two young people in India living in a sort of self-imposed diaspora, one dreaming about his years at Harvard, the other of a hardly-remembered childhood in San Francisco.
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