cover image The Best American Short Stories 1997

The Best American Short Stories 1997

. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $25 (384pp) ISBN 978-0-395-79866-9

Although guest editor Proulx has arranged this year's 21 stories--as if for a high-school textbook--in thematic clusters (""Perceived Social Values,"" ""Rites of Passage,"" etc.), what really distinguishes the collection is the sly sense of humor to be found in many of its offerings. Richard Bausch's surreal ""Nobody in Hollywood"" displays a madcap comedy that serves this usually more restrained writer well, while Cynthia Ozick's ""Save My Child!"" gives a wry glimpse at the cultural misunderstandings between a retired New York lawyer (Ozick's redoubtable Puttermesser) and the materialistic young Russian cousin who comes for a visit and takes over her apartment. Tim Gautreaux's ""Little Frogs in a Ditch,"" in which a shiftless young man plans to sell garden variety pigeons as homing pigeons, also draws a surprising amount of wisdom from its comic premise. But the best pieces here are, perhaps, the darkest: Robert Stone's ""Under the Pitons,"" about an uneasy band of drug smugglers aboard a boat, and T. Coraghessan Boyle's surprisingly bleak and genuinely shocking ""Killing Babies,"" which portrays a recovering crackhead's violent confrontation with anti-abortion protesters. Although not every story here lives up to its author's reputation, Proulx has proved herself an eclectic reader and has followed in the tradition of earlier editors, assembling fine recent work from the most talked-about practitioners of the form. (Nov.)