This year's collection of North American stories suffers from a bad editorial policy: unlike the British-based series (see Gordon & Hughes, below), this annual volume includes stories that are also being reprinted this year in books by their respective authors. As a consequence, nine or so stories out of the 20 selected here have already been reviewed--almost all positively--by Kirkus in recent collections by Richard Bausch, Madison Smartt Bell, Steven Millhauser, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Christopher Tilghman, and Joy Williams. Ford unapologetically includes two stories each by Bausch and Munro, and draws most of the others from the highest profile magazines--six from The New Yorker alone. All that aside, the remaining stories are a welcome batch. Lesser-known authors are represented by Patricia Henley's "The Secret of Cartwheels," a sad memory, full of repressed anger, of the narrator's four-month stay in a home for girls whose mothers cannot care for them; C.S. Godshalk's rather dazzling and un-sociological account of an inner-city savant whose lust for knowledge--as well as instinct for kindness--battles with his environment ("The Wizard"); and Pamela Houston's snappy, second-person meditation on a love affair with a man not her style ("How to Talk to a Hunter"). Newcomer Joan Wickersham's "Commuter Marriage," a yuppie whine, chronicles the difficulties of long-distance romance. Elizabeth Tallent further explores contemporary marriage and divorce in "Prowler," while Denis Johnson's equally characteristic (for him) "Car-Crash While Hitchhiking" is a hard-as-nails memory of a drugged-out vision of mortality. Dennis McFarland's timely and poignant "Nothing to ask For" finds a former alcoholic attending to his best friend dying from AIDS, the loyal buddy who set him on the road to recovery. Lore Segal's fabulistic blend of politics and magic in "The Reverse Bug" ranks with the best European fiction. But Padgett Powell's goofy narrative of a self-descried no-count booze-hound and whore-monger ("Typical") takes the honors as a work as profound as it is funny. A fair sampling of what's happening in American fiction today.