Like the second volume in this annual series--a volume of stories by women--this one includes no introduction, and that's just as well. The only explanation for this predictable anthology seems to be the marketplace. And who better to sell a collection than Raymond Carver, the overexposed, under-depreciated master of meaninglessness. Regardless of quality--and his contribution here ranks among his worst--a Carver story is something of a sine qua non in the contemporary anthology biz. And selections by Tobias Wolff and Richard Ford seem well on their way to such status. In Ford's case at least, he's well represented here with a mournful tale about the ""coldness in us all."" Readers of Ford's recent and very available collection, Rock Springs, will recognize this as ""Great Falls."" Stories by Robert Olmstead, Tim O'Brien, Charles Baxter, Frederick Busch, and Stuart Dybeck are all no doubt on their way to trade collections--Olmstead's ""High Low Jack"" makes almost no sense here and must be part of a longer narrative. Tim O'Brien's ""The Things They Carried"" is less a story than a meditative poem on the theme that ""war is hell,"" and that you have to carry a lot. Frederick Busch's middle-brow ""Dogsong"" is pure soap-opera stuff: a middle-aged judge who attempted suicide lies crippled in a hospital bed trying to remember how everything fell apart. Walker includes one of his Graywolf authors, William Kittredge, whose ""Phantom Silver""--a sexed-up prologue and epilogue to the Lone Ranger (!) story--stands out for its allegorical pretensions. From two unknowns here, ""On the Roof,"" by Chris Zenowich, is an unfocused, rather trite tale of the troubles befalling a wealthy Connecticut family; and Paul Griner's ""Worboy's Transactions,"" in the neo-proletarian grain of Carver et al., nicely modulates between the competing values of generosity and greed held by a straggling service-station owner in upstate New York. An unimaginative principle for inclusion makes for a pointless volume.