Timeless yet time bound, these excellent stories inhabit the past as solidly as the present, ranging from Midwest murder around 1900 in E.L. Doctorow's wonderful but deadly "A House on the Plains" to the 1937 Hindenberg
tragedy in Jim Shepard's ingenious "Love and Hydrogen." Almost every story concentrates on producing perfect grace notes of characterization, with individual epiphany or anti-epiphany favored over plot and experimentation. An exception is the Shepard story, which describes the love affair of two male crewmen on the doomed Hindenberg—a setting that contrasts sharply with the semi-anonymous backdrops of other stories. Most entries are fairly traditional in structure, but in the semiromantic "Digging," Beth Lordan displays a talent for dynamic shifts in time and place. Multicultural voices provide moving and deeply felt, if more conventional, gems, including Edwidge Danticat's "Seven" and Jhumpa Lahiri's "Nobody's Business." The most humorous entry is Leonard Michael's "Nachman from Los Angeles," the witty story of a rich Arab prince and a ghostwritten term paper. An impressive eight of the 20 stories chosen by editor Miller come from the pages of the New Yorker; Zoetrope
is in second place with two entries to its credit.
But no matter where they were first published, nearly all of the stories chosen are stellar examples of each writer's work. If a comforting sense of tradition and consolidation pervades this anthology,
it is cause for praise, not criticism. (Oct. 15)
Forecast:Houghton Mifflin's franchise is a powerful one, and readers are familiar with the plain, distinctive look of the series, which is backed up this year by a $100,000 marketing campaign.