cover image The Best American Short Stories 1996

The Best American Short Stories 1996

. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $12.95 (363pp) ISBN 978-0-395-75290-6

While some installments of this annual anthology could more accurately be titled The Best Short Stories Published by the New Yorker,"" many of this year's selections are culled from more obscure literary magazines, with a number of new voices standing alongside series regulars such as Joyce Carol Oates and Alice Adams. Among the more established writers, a standout is Jamaica Kincaid's ""In Roseau,"" a tale of a girl who gets involved in an erotic triangle with a married couple. Two writers who have won critical acclaim without yet reaching the wide audience they deserve weigh in with very impressive pieces: Stuart Dybeck offers a surreal yet oddly coherent story of love, loss and Chinese food in ""Paper Lantern""; while Melanie Rae Thon's ""Xmas, Jamaica Plain"" demonstrates her considerable gift for capturing a character's voice. Few of the new writers that Wideman includes hold their own against their better-known counterparts; an exception is Junot Diaz, whose ""Ysrael"" is a fierce and unblinking story of a disfigured boy who wears a mask and the other children determined to see beneath it. But other newer writers, such as Jason Brown and William Lychak, seem in their different ways to be prime examples of the sort of middle-of-the-road fiction produced by M.F.A. programs: dutifully well-crafted stories whose content is derivative and uninspired. Overall, this is an engaging collection, though one that provides scant evidence for the existence of a new generation of talented short story writers. (Nov.)