A great story gets its hooks into you right from the start; you know you're in the hands of a good writer when the very first sentence transports you wholly into another world. "Mother preferred Zulu servants." "It must be, Ruth thought, that she was going to die in the spring." "Who would have thought that a war of such proportions would bother to turn in its fury against the fools of Chelm?"
The 21 fictions featured in The Best American Short Stories 1999 have very little in common--but whether they're about ranchers or commuters, romantic seekers or New Age pilgrims, what they do share is a sense of urgency. In each of them, there's a kind of voice that announces its need to be heard. "I'm not a bad guy," pleads the narrator of "The Sun, the Moon, the Stars," and even though he cheats on his girlfriend, by the end of Junot Díaz's story you might be tempted to agree anyway. (Especially considering the charming way he turns Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener into a verb--as in, "A lot of the time she Bartlebys me, says, 'No, I'd rather not.'") "Real Estate," by that master of bittersweet comedy Lorrie Moore, starts by repeating "Ha! Ha! Ha!" for two solid pages but becomes a rueful take on marriage, house-hunting, and even death: "The body, hauling sadnesses, pursued the soul, hobbled after. The body was like a sweet dim dog trotting lamely toward the gate as you tried slowly to drive off, out the long driveway. Take me, take me too, barked the dog."
Other standouts in this collection include Alice Munro's "Save the Reaper," a kind of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" where no one is killed or saved; Rick Bass's haunting evocation of winter in the north country, "The Hermit's Story"; and Tim Gautreax's "The Piano Tuner," about a manic-depressive Creole princess playing cocktail piano in a motel lounge. (This is one tale that truly does end with a bang, not a whimper.) Taken together, they are ample evidence that the American short story is alive, well, and eminently able to--in the words of guest editor Amy Tan--"help us live interesting lives." --Chloe Byrne [via]