It's hard not to be cynical about an anthology of proclaimed "masterpieces" that includes, without apology, a story by one of its editors; and although some may consider Carver a contemporary master, remarkably few other indisputable gems are brought together here--Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," Philip Roth's "Tire Conversion of the Jews" and Bernard Malamud's "The Magic Barrel." On the other hand, there are an overwhelming number of mediocre tales punctuating the 36 chosen by Carver and Scribner's editor Tom Jenks; even masterly writers such as Mark Helprin, Grace Paley, Leonard Michaels, and James Alan McPherson arc represented by some of their weakest work; and just plain awful stories come from Richard Brautigan and Vance Bourjaily ("1/3, 1/3, 1/3" and "The Amish Farmer"). The notion of a contemporary masterpiece, of course, is open lo question, but what seems more clear is that the editors here seem to feel they know what's hot in the current marketplace. The many avatars of recent realist and minimalist fiction (Bobbie Ann Mason, Richard Ford, Joy Williams, Tobias Wolff, Ann Beattie, Jayne Anne Phillips) join in full numbing force in these pages. Less generous explanations would seem to account for selections by John Gardner and Arthur Miller--the first having been Carver's teacher, and Miller's "The Misfits" coming from a volume reissued by Jenks at Scribners. In his alarmingly inarticulate introduction, Carver contends that he considers this a companion to Warren and Erskine's Short Story Masterpieces (1954). Inclusion in that earlier anthology ostensibly explains the absence now of John Cheever, Peter Taylor, and Eudora Welty, none of whose preeminence, it may be said, is threatened by this unnecessary slight. But however that may be, one hardly finds here yet the anthology deserving the mantel of its--and of that earlier--august title.