cover image The Best American Short Stories 1999

The Best American Short Stories 1999

. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $27.5 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-395-92683-3

Despite increasing competition, this annual collection remains the place to find the most compelling short fiction published in the U.S. and Canada. Guest editor Tan comments that many of her 21 choices carry ""an exotic flavor.... Either the narrators were ethnic or the settings outside America."" Especially noteworthy are several stories with South Asian locations or characters. In Jhumpa Lahiri's ""Interpreter of Maladies"" an Indian tour guide finds himself at first puzzled by an Indian-American family, and later drawn to its frustrated mother and wife. James Spencer's ""The Robbers of Karnataka"" follows Americans who visit South India seeking an enlightened swami, and encounter armed bandits instead. Other strong entries come from such stellar names as Alice Munro (""Save the Reaper""), Rick Bass (""The Hermit's Story"") and Lorrie Moore (""Real Estate""). But much exciting work here emanates from young writers. The evocative ""The Sun, the Moon, the Stars,"" by Junot D az, follows a troubled New York City Latino couple to Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, where ""the entire history of late-20th-century automobiles swarm[s] across every flat stretch of ground, a cosmology of battered cars, battered motorcycles, battered trucks, and battered buses... "" Nathan Englander combines Yiddish folktale and Nazi-era horror in ""The Tumblers,"" as a group of Hasids performs a grotesque acrobatic act in the heart of Berlin. Hester Kaplan's ""Live Life King-Sized"" also merges comedy with mortality: the owner of a Caribbean resort must accommodate a guest who asks that he be allowed to die on the island. The selection draws on 17 journals, from the New Yorker to the Clackamas Literary Review; and many of the stories have published in such collections of the authors' work as For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, Birds of America and Welding with Children. Such a high caliber of literary excellence speaks well for the state of short fiction. (Oct.)