Over half the protagonists of Best American Short Stories 2000 are anything but white middle class: the American short story, this collection suggests, has gone global.
We have, for instance, Chinese-American Ha Jin’s “The Bridegroom,” about the wedding of an unattractive woman to a closeted homosexual in a Manchurian city; Bosnian-American Aleksandar Hemon’s “Blind Josef Pronek,” the story of a journalist from Sarajevo who haphazardly immigrates to Chicago and works his way into America while watching his country being torn apart on CNN; and Dominican-American Junot Diaz’s “Nilda,” which reprises his narrator, Yunior, while closing the book on Yunior’s cancer-stricken older brother Rafa. Also on hand is Indian-American Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Third and Final Continent” (from her Pulitzer-winning Interpreter of Maladies), about the relationship between an elderly landlady and her tenant, an Indian newly arrived in turbulent Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1969. In Walter Mosley’s “The Fly,” an African-American mailroom worker mistakes a white secretary’s revulsion for him as racial prejudice, while she interprets his innocent crush as sexual harassment. In Marilyn Krysl’s “The Thing Around Them,” a Sri Lankan fears for her son’s life after a friend’s son is dragged to death behind a jeep. The horrors, the absurdities, the perils, and the possibilities of the millennial globe—all are well represented. Several pieces also feature white middle-class protagonists. Michael Byers’s “The Beautiful Days” is a coming-of-ager about a student wrestling with roommates and Herodotus. “Call If You Need Me,” a recently discovered Raymond Carver story, echoes the themes and tones of Carver’s later work.
Series editor Kenison makes great claims for this year’s gathering: “You will close this book with a greater sense of who we are as a nation. . . .” Guest editor Doctorow identifies a formal freedom in today’s short story: a “literary shackle has been broken.” Both claims are borne out, more or less.