cover image The Best of the West 5: New Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri

The Best of the West 5: New Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri

. W. W. Norton & Company, $22.95 (294pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03431-8

This enjoyable collection reveals a few surprises, including Cathryn Alpert's Woody Allen-quoting dwarf and Alison Baker's hilarious sendup of Western conventions. In Baker's story a female drifter named Whitey travels ``over frozen plains and rivers and into the mountains'' before teaming up with Buffalo Gal to hunt cheerleaders. But most of the stories are as straightforward and elemental as the myths of the Wild West, and they draw on the hold it continues to have over our imagination. ``It was hard to think of Larry as being from Wyoming. He had no mystique,'' says a character in Frances Stokes Hoekstra's story about a young girl troubled by her mother's sexual longings. And in a story by Christopher Tilghman, an unemployed man from New York's financial district finds himself drawn to life in a small western town, tempted to leave his wife and children for a waitress he spent the night with. Some of the stories, such as Ron Carlson's moody, elliptical tale of a disintegrating marriage, smack a little of the sentimentality that mars the worst of country music. But on the whole, this is a solid anthology of well-selected and well-written stories. (Nov.)