The eightieth anniversary issue of this annual series displays a catholicity of taste that's often been missing from previous volumes. Smiley's selection, drawn from a wide array of magazines, balances new and familiar voices, and, most noticeably, avoids the trendier themes and styles of recent years. Religious themes are honorably treated in a number of fine pieces here: Newcomer Steven Polansky's "Leg" concerns a middle-aged Christian father who sacrifices his leg in order to test the indifference of his head-banger son. Old pro Don DeLillo is represented by "The Angel Esmeralda," a densely imagistic story that embodies an almost medieval theological debate about transcendence, and sets it against the ruins of the South Bronx. Edward J. Delaney's "The Drowning" chronicles the dramatic life story of a former Irish priest who uses his knowledge from the confessional to alter his life forever. The bloody crossroads where politics and religion intersect provide the background for a tale set in Northern Ireland (Jennifer C. Cornell's "Undertow") and another about Zionist Nazi-hunters (Avner Mandelman's "Pity"). Meanwhile, the influence of genre fiction is a welcome addition: Jaimy Gordon's hard-boiled "Night's Work" brilliantly surveys the world of racetrack rates; equally tough-minded is Edward Falco's "The Artist," an action-filled narrative about a successful, suburban artist who dramatically confronts his crime-ridden past. Quirkier stories include the confessions of a former obsessive-compulsive (Andrew Cozine's "Hand Jive"); a macabre job-orientation lecture (Daniel Orozco's "Orientation"); Andrea Barrett's tale of love and honor among geneticists ("The Behavior of the Hawkweeds"); and Thom Jones's wild piece about an alcoholic baboon (from Cold Snap, p. 495). A number of clinkers concern familiar themes: a mother dying from cancer, a disaffected Vietnam vet, suburban adultery. But Ellen Gilchrist's "The Stucco House"--a seven-year-old's view of his troubled alcoholic mother--takes the honors as the collection's most moving story. A strong addition to the venerable series.