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edited by Sue Miller

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2002
ISBN: 0-618-11749-0
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

A varied portrait of the modern short story as we know it today—at least as seen in these 20, presumably best, pieces from the past calendar year:

Miller, guest editor for 2001, says in her introduction that she took the B.A.S.S. job, in part, to “learn something about where the American short story [is], what was going on with it at this moment in its history, and in ours.” We’ll learn something too. The standouts here are Michael Chabon’s “Along a Frontage Road,” about a man’s trip to choose a pumpkin with his son that becomes, through its innocence, a prism revealing love and affection; and Leonard Michaels’s “Nachman from Los Angeles,” a tale as weirdly sad as it is funny, about a man asked to write a term paper on Metaphysics for one Prince Ali Massid of Persia. Jim Shepherd’s story of a homosexual love affair aboard the Hindenberg (“Love and Hydrogen”) is granted poignancy from the doom we know to be approaching. Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Nobody’s Business” is a love story complicated by telephone suitors trying to arrange their own marriages; and another tale of complex love (Doctorow’s “A House on the Plains”) sees a woman place an ad for a husband, then turn to malfeasance. Richard Ford, Arthur Miller, and Alice Munro contribute pleasing pieces, though these bits might not make the “Best of . . . ” in their own bodies of work. Akhil Sharma explores ideas of God through the tale of a family with a terribly injured son (“Surrounded by Sleep”), and mechanical engineer Karl Iagnemma explores love between mathematicians, if such is possible, in “Zilkowski’s Theorem,” where the refutation of one man’s theory is revenge for past betrayal and the opening of an even larger can of worms.

A bit thin compared to years past: heavy on realism and tales of simple theme. (Interestingly, there are only two duplications between this volume and the O. Henry’s [see Dark, above]: “Family Furnishings,” by Alice Munro, and “Seven,” by Edwidge Danticat.)