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edited by Elizabeth Strout

Pub Date: Oct. 8th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-547-55482-2
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Plenty of great stories, but lighter on discovery and revelation than some previous annuals.

For the reader whose consumption of short stories doesn’t extend much beyond this yearly collection, the latest delivers the goods. With novelist Strout (The Burgess Boys, 2013, etc.) serving as guest editor and making the final selection, the collection includes a number of writers widely regarded as masters of the form: Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, George Saunders and Junot Díaz among them. Almost half of these stories originally appeared in either the New Yorker or Granta. Strout explains that voice was the dominant criterion in her selection: “Arguably, authorial voice is more important in a short story than in a longer piece of fiction. The ride is quicker, the response heightened, and less space is available in which to absorb patches of soggy writing or gratuitous detail.” One of the quickest rides that generates the strongest response is “The Chair” by David Means, a first-person narration (as many of these stories are) by a father who can’t be trusted to know himself, let alone do best by his son, as he finds himself “having to reestablish my command, or better yet, my guidance—a towering figure in his little mind....” Quite a few of these stories concern the essence of storytelling: “Stories are about things that don’t happen. They could happen, but they don’t. But they could” (Steven Millhauser, “A Voice in the Night”); “I’m Paul Harvey, and now you know the rest of the story” (Callan Wink, “Breatharians”).

As always, the Contributors’ Notes on the stories are fascinating, and writers will be encouraged to learn that one of the best stories here—“Horned Men” by Karl Taro Greenfeld—was rejected by some 50 publications before making it to print.