Shannon Ravenel, Editor, Tim Gautreaux, Preface by , preface by Tim Gautreaux. Algonquin $13.95 (334p) ISBN 978-1-56512-432-5

Like last year's edition, the 19th installment of this annual showcase of Southern short fiction is exciting but uneven. The collection gets off to a fine start with Pulitzer winner Edward P. Jones (in his affecting "A Rich Man," a man seeking lost youth gets a lot more than he bargained for) and Chris Offutt (the simple but touching "Second Hand," in which a woman pawns her prized boots for a chance to make a third-grader happy). But while Rick Bass's "Pagans" unfolds as an affecting, rich evocation of young love, it's meandering and overwritten. Though certainly not filled with humor, this year's collection—with offerings like George Singleton's "Raise Children Here," Brock Clarke's "The Lolita School" and Drew Perry's "Love Is Gnats Today"—reflects a less somber view than the 2003 edition. Still, Silas House's "Coal Smoke" and Michael Knight's "Feeling Lucky" are bleak, and Ann Pancake's "Dog Song" is both haunting and gruesome. Jill McCorkle's "Intervention," the tale of a woman's complicated devotion to her alcoholic husband, shines. Breast fixation, race, pre–World War I sex education, the shadow of death, a nasty parrot, reconciliation and an iconoclastic docent are subjects explored by rising stars, including Starkey Flythe Jr., Tayari Jones, K.A. Longstreet, Annette Sanford, Bret Anthony Johnston and R.T. Smith. Reflections on the stories by the authors themselves add another layer of pleasure to this volume. (June)

Reviewed on: 05/03/2004
Release date: 01/01/2004
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