An anthology marking the 15th anniversary of the annual prize celebrating collections of short stories.
There is not much unity to be found in these pages; as volume editor Dark writes of the stories in this volume: “Each is distinctive, sometimes jarringly different in tone, scope, and language from the story that precedes or follows it.” All, however, are skillful distillations, sometimes of whole lives—Patrick O’Keeffe’s evocation, for instance, of gloomy rural Ireland and its generations of secrets kept (“You know the way them older people are, can’t say a word or ask them anything ever, excuse me now for saying so, Missus“)—and sometimes of smaller moments, such as Steven Millhauser’s lyrical description of a rainstorm that melts away the snowmen the narrator and a clutch of fellow children have made (“Already, it seemed to me, our snowmen were showing evidence of a skill so excessive, an elaboration so painfully and exquisitely minute, that it could scarcely conceal a desperate restlessness”). Most of the writers are well-published and relatively well-known, though not always for short stories: Rick Bass, for instance, though his stories are often anthologized, is thought of first as a novelist, as are Edwige Danticat, George Saunders, and Tobias Wolff. Dark finds room for a few writers who are earlier on in their careers, such as Daniyal Mueenuddin, a Pakistani-American writer who writes of a love affair that takes on complicated dimensions when the young woman finds that she is pregnant: “The old midwife from the village,” Mueenuddin writes ominously, “with filthy hands and a greedy heart, brought the baby into the world, a tiny little boy.” The baby will be fighting against the odds, it appears, but then happiness is not a commodity that flows in abundance in many of these stories, with the possible exception of Mary Gordon’s literal shaggy dog story, a delight to read.
A touch less diverse than the Best American Short Story and Pushcart Prize annuals but still a pleasure for students of the genre.