Like last year's predecessor, this ""annual"" doesn't exactly clarify its aims. It is not precisely a yearly ""best"" (some of the stories here are 10 and 20 years old, some not published till recently); and the inclusion of only women raises real qualms (to what purpose?). Maybe best to call it an ""invitational""--the work of 13 writers working in the short-story form that the editor has large appreciation of. The quality of the work is generally good: no real masterpieces (everyone here has better work elsewhere) but professional and interesting fiction. Two pieces are clearly inferior to the rest: Tess Gallagher's tedious, unshapely ""Bad Company"" and Sara Vogan's Sixties nostalgia-dream ""Sunday's No Name Band."" A few pieces are artful but basically conventional--Susan Minot's ""The Navigator,"" Louise Erdrich's ""The Best Queen,"" and Ann Beattie's ladies-who-lunch story, ""The Cards""--while others are slightly more eccentric than their brevity can shoulder: Jane Bowles' ""Senorita Cordoba"" and Alice Adams' ""The Oasis."" This leaves six stories: strong work by Joy Williams, Elizabeth Tallent, Bobble Ann Mason, Alice Munro and Laurie Colwin--identifiable all, but not their best work. The throne, however, is regally occupied by Mavis Gallant's ""Irina""; the story of a writer's old widow, her embitterments, her inherited wisdom, a story embroidered like the best of Gallant with her special threads of mined culture, dignified love, pain, and no illusions whatsoever. A fuzzy provenance, then--but interesting work, no matter what the editorial purpose.