Where's literary fiction heading on the eve of the new millennium?

The New Yorker hopes to provide what fiction editor Bill Buford calls a "snapshot" into that speculation in "Fiction Under 40: The Future of American Fiction," this year's theme for the magazine's annual summer fiction double issue, which hits newsstands today.

The 20 writers whose short fiction made the staff-selected cut are Sherman Alexie, Donald Antrim, Ethan Canin, Michael Chabon, Edwidge Danticat, Junot Diaz, Tony Earley, Nathan Englander, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jonathan Franzen, Allegra Goodman, A.M. Homes, Matthew Klam, Jhumpa Lahiri, Chang-Rae Lee, Rick Moody, Antonya Nelson, George Saunders, William T. Vollman and David Foster Wallace.

The rules that Buford initially established when he sent out a call for entries to agents and publishers this past January have undergone some change along the way. Antrim and Saunders, for example, are not under but are indeed 40. And Klam, a writer whose fiction has been published in the New Yorker before, has yet to have his work collected in book form.

While Buford expects the requisite carping over the selections -- many could argue there's a definite leaning toward usual suspects -- he was pleased with the wealth of choice. Perhaps most promising of all, the issue's concept, similar to what Buford developed at Granta, appears to have commercial appeal. The issue attracted more ad pages (109.37) than any other fiction issue.

To kick off promotion of the issue, the New Yorker is holding a celebrity-studded series of readings at J 's Pub in New York's Public Theater this week.