Murphy, in his introduction to the first installment of a promised series, expresses some dissatisfaction with the other short-story annuals: he finds the O. Henry anthologies too predictable or bland; he notes that the Best American Stories series is now open to the whims of the ever-changing celebrity-writer editors. For this collection, therefore, magazine editors were asked to choose three top stories they've published during the previous year--from which Murphy then made his own selection. (The New Yorker--a primary source for most story anthologies--would not play even loose favorites, and is thus unrepresented.) The most anthologized story of the season, Mary Hood's ""Inexorable Progress,"" is here--and holding sturdily; even better, maybe best, is Janet Beeler Shaw's story of temptation and need, both painfully turned away, ""A New Life."" (It also appears in Shaw's collection, Some of the Things I Did Not Do, p. 651 .) Laurie Colwin's ""Frank and Billy""--a simple/complex, everyday-urban extramarital affair--has her special and perfect pacing; Charlie Smith's ""Crystal River"" is entertainingly tart and sensual if somewhat meandering; Anne Tyler's grim portrait of inextricable and cascading teenage misery, ""Teenage Wasteland,"" is as sad and economical as a case report. And two newcomers provide strongly promising entries: Beth Nugent's ""Tough As A Man,"" and Amy Hempel's ""In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson Is Buried."" But there is also a disappointingly high percentage of merely dull, merely competent pieces here--by Tess Gallagher, Molly Giles, Mary Gordon, David Leavitt, Tobias Wolff; Thomas McGuane is baroquely arch as ever; and one story, by Robley Wilson, Jr., from the quarterly Antaeus, is almost a parody of that journal's feathery, wistful style--heavy on what-ifs and it-didn't-really-happens. Like the recent Graywolf Annual (p. 930): a well-meaning but unimpressive alternative to the mainstream anthologies--one of which, Updike's Best (p. 775), remains the year's most commanding roundup.