Edited by beloved storyteller Garrison Keillor, this year's volume promises to be full of humor, surprises, and, as always, accomplished writing by new and familiar voices. The preeminent short fiction series since 1915, The Best American Short Stories is the only volume that annually offers the finest works chosen by a distinguished best-selling author.
"Each of these twenty stories surprised and delighted me. Each is a story I'd gladly read out loud to anyone who wanted to be read to," writes guest editor Garrison Keillor in his introduction to The Best American Short Stories 1998. We should be so lucky! Read out loud or not, this is still one of the liveliest, most varied volumes in this venerable series. One pleasant surprise is that it isn't as New Yorker-centric as it has been in years past. Readers will find stories by both long-established voices (John Updike, Annie Proulx) and exhilarating new talent (Poe Ballantine, Maxine Swann), first published in magazines that range from regional to slick. The subject matter is no less diverse: a couple in their 40s desperate to have a baby; Walt Whitman ministering to wounded Union soldiers; the vengeful ghost of a half-skinned bull. And then there's what was perhaps the year's most stunning piece of short fiction, Lorrie Moore's "People Like That Are the Only People Here" (published in her 1998 collection, Birds of America ), a gut-wrenching, unsentimental, and yes, funny account of a mother whose baby is diagnosed with liver cancer. From its opening image of blood in a diaper ("like a tiny mouse heart packed in snow") to its bitterly self-conscious conclusion ("There are the notes. Now, where is the money?"), this is storytelling at its most visceral and affecting. Moore's piece alone makes Best American worth the price of admission; combined with the 19 other tales here, it makes a convincing case for the continuing health of the American short story.