A usual-suspects gathering of living American short-story writers, with a few nods to the up-and-coming generation.
A short story is to a novel as an hour is to a year: a vignette, a slice of life, a situation. When the late Raymond Carver wrote one, it ended inconclusively and unhappily; if David Foster Wallace writes one, it has footnotes; if any one of a thousand young Brooklyn residents or MFA grads writes one, it is usually “edgy,” with lots of product placement. Happily, Oates (My Sister, My Love, 2008, etc.) and debut acolyte Beha open with one of the most classically minded of contemporary short fictionists, namely the Spokane Indian writer Sherman Alexie, who, like the Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday (alive, but not included), can jab neatly at white audiences while beating most of their authors at their own game; in this instance, Alexie’s oft-anthologized “The Toughest Indian in the World” does the sparring. Junot Díaz and Edwidge Danticat represent the two halves of Hispaniola, with Díaz similarly turning multiculturalism on its head by making mock-heroes of tenement losers (“Tonight me and Aurora sit in front of the TV and split a case of Budweiser. This is going to hurt, she says, holding her can up.”) Stuart Dybek delivers a neat turn on baseball (“Most guys are washed up by seventeen”); Annie Proulx does the customary duty of conjuring a downer on the High Plains; and Jhumpa Lahiri turns in a curiously flat piece of suburban angst. But the rest of the collection contains nary a surprise, with the well known (Ford, McGuane, Gaitskill, Chabon) doing what they do so well—and have done in many other collections, which this one does nothing to supplant or best.
Usable as an introduction to a canon in the making, but inconsequential, even for an anthology.