THE BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES 1996
John Edgar Wideman
Wideman's smart introduction to this annual series challenges the standard criteria for inclusion, and justifies his other departures from convention--he selects 24 stories, not 20, and he knowingly reprints a selection ("In Roseau") from Jamaica Kincaid's recently published novel, The Autobiography of My Mother. All of which leads to a remarkably catholic collection, one that seldom sounds a repetitive note, or suggests one typical style for the times. Multicultural themes prevail, with differing consequences: Lan Chang's "The Eve of the Spirit Festival" chronicles the uneasy assimilation of an Asian widower and his two daughters in New York; first-timer Akhil Sharma's "If You Sing Like That for Me" splendidly evokes a young woman's fears as a wife in Delhi, India; Mary Gordon's "Intertextuality," despite its pretentious title, expertly recalls her Irish immigrant grandmother; and Peter Ho Davies's "The Silver Screen" is a Keystone Kops version of communist revolutionaries in postwar Malaysia, a comedy undermined by the radicals' brutal violence. Dan Chaon's troubling "Fitting Ends" focuses on the narrator's haunted recollections of his juvenile delinquent brother. William Henry Lewis's powerful "Shades" announces a welcome new voice in African-American fiction. The ubiquitous Melanie Rae Thon contributes another of her gritty tales, this of a teenaged prostitute and her best friend, a transvestite prostitute. And Joyce Carol Oates assumes the voice of a girl growing up in strange, seedy circumstances. Anna Keesey ("Bright Water") convincingly takes on the epistolary style of a 19th-century businessman writing to his son, who leads a millenarian Christian cult. Stylistically, the volume stretches from Stephen Dixon's stream-of-consciousness narrative in "Sleep" to William Lychak's delightfully fabulistic tale about an odd woman from the sea. Stories by Robert Olen Butler and Susan Perabe have already appeared in Best Stories from the South, and Junot D¡az's "Ysrael" is in his much-noted debut collection, Drown (p. 916). A perfect place to sample the wide range of current fiction.