The latest in this 85-year-old series continues the tradition of putting the timely and new into a kind of yearbook of the American literary scene, this time with Tan (The Hundred Secret Senses, 1995, etc.) picking the sides and calling the shots. “The best stories do change us,” writes Tan. “They help us live interesting lives.” That’s a pretty tall order, especially nowadays, when literary fiction in general and the short story in particular become increasingly self-referential and esoteric. But there’s still some life to be found on these pages. Rick Bass, in “The Hermit’s Story,” takes us into Jack London territory with an old-fashioned campfire yarn about a dog trainer and her frozen passage through the snows of Canada with her sledding team. At the other extreme (in “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars—), Junot Diaz heads from New Jersey to Santo Domingo, where Dominican narrator Yunior takes his Nuyorican girlfriend Magdalena on a doomed holiday in the hope of patching up their shaky relationship. The best stories here, in fact, all tend to be regional: Ha Jin portrays the metaphoric claustrophobia of a Communist boarding school (—In the Kindergarten—), while A. Hemon’s family portrait (—Islands—) offers a microcosmic study of the survivors of Stalin’s gulags. Domestic life American-style doesn—t seem to have the same resonance: Heidi Julavits’s deconstruction of a wedding album (—Marry the One Who Gets There First—) is too clever by half, whereas Lorrie Moore’s “Real Estate” does nothing very original with the tired theme of the malcontent woman looking for her dream house. Similarly, Stephen Dobyns’s interior fantasy “Kansas” (the hero reimagines the story’s end over and over) becomes quickly tedious, while Tim Gatreaux’s more straightforward account of loneliness redeemed through art (—The Piano Tuner—) succeeds with less commotion. Perhaps less is more, after all: the more ambitious pieces here disappoint almost without exception, whereas the authors who are old-fashioned enough to want to tell a story usually manage to do just that—and quite nicely, too.