Helprin introduces his guest-selection with a John-Gardneresque screed ("Minimalists appear to be people who have not been forced to struggle, and who have not dared upon some struggle, to which they have not been forced. Thus, they have contempt for their own lives of mild discomfort--and who can blame them? They live in a strange, motionless, protected world")--a screed that's never especially arguable but also seems to lack a point. To make things worse, his choices sculpt no special shape to illustrate what he thinks fiction might better be doing. There are fine works here, sure--Mary Ann Taylor-Hall's perfectly textured story of marital patience, "Banana Boats"; Ralph Lombreglia's funny and a-world-apart story about life at a New Jersey suburban restaurant, "Inn Essence"; C.S. Godshalk's piteous and moving "Wonderland"; and Robert Stone's razor-like "Helping." But, although their languages are fully rather than emptily tense--very much unminimal--they don't seem all that out of tenor with most flat, exhausted, reverse-sentimental contemporary work. Of which, in its unvarnished form, there's plenty here as well: stories by Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, Will Blythe, Rick Bass. The perhaps most intriguing story of all is Lucy Honig's "No Friends, All Strangers," about city life--a story that keeps losing its thread and strength only somehow to pick it up again two paragraphs later, full of feeling and charming risk. Its imperfection is its greatest attraction, in fact--which may make it the closest exemplar of what Helprin tries to get at in his chuffing introduction.