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The Best American Short Stories 1999 Paperback – October 29, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

A great story gets its hooks into you right from the start; you know you're in the hands of a good writer when the very first sentence transports you wholly into another world. "Mother preferred Zulu servants." "It must be, Ruth thought, that she was going to die in the spring." "Who would have thought that a war of such proportions would bother to turn in its fury against the fools of Chelm?"

The 21 fictions featured in The Best American Short Stories 1999 have very little in common--but whether they're about ranchers or commuters, romantic seekers or New Age pilgrims, what they do share is a sense of urgency. In each of them, there's a kind of voice that announces its need to be heard. "I'm not a bad guy," pleads the narrator of "The Sun, the Moon, the Stars," and even though he cheats on his girlfriend, by the end of Junot Díaz's story you might be tempted to agree anyway. (Especially considering the charming way he turns Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener into a verb--as in, "A lot of the time she Bartlebys me, says, 'No, I'd rather not.'") "Real Estate," by that master of bittersweet comedy Lorrie Moore, starts by repeating "Ha! Ha! Ha!" for two solid pages but becomes a rueful take on marriage, house-hunting, and even death: "The body, hauling sadnesses, pursued the soul, hobbled after. The body was like a sweet dim dog trotting lamely toward the gate as you tried slowly to drive off, out the long driveway. Take me, take me too, barked the dog."

Other standouts in this collection include Alice Munro's "Save the Reaper," a kind of "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" where no one is killed or saved; Rick Bass's haunting evocation of winter in the north country, "The Hermit's Story"; and Tim Gautreax's "The Piano Tuner," about a manic-depressive Creole princess playing cocktail piano in a motel lounge. (This is one tale that truly does end with a bang, not a whimper.) Taken together, they are ample evidence that the American short story is alive, well, and eminently able to--in the words of guest editor Amy Tan--"help us live interesting lives." --Chloe Byrne

From Publishers Weekly

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.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 410 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company (October 29, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039592684X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0395926840
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #674,834 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Amy Tan is the author of The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God's Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter's Daughter, The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life, and two children's books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa, which has now been adapted as a PBS production. Tan was also a co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club, and her essays and stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. Her work has been translated into thirty-five languages. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Dianne Foster HALL OF FAME on May 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
I am a big fan of the "Best American Short Stories" series, an annual collection compiled and published by the Houghton Mifflin Company because I can't get around to reading all those great stories in all those great magazines flooding the market. I've been behind for so long, I was glad when I recently discovered a collection entitled "Best American Short Stories of the Century" edited by John Updike -- a sort of best of the best.
Some years, I have found the annual anthology more appealing, and some years less so. "The Best American Short Stories, 1999" edited by Amy Tan is very entertaining and more memorable than the collections of the past few years. My acid test is this -- can I remember today the gist of a story I read last month? In other words, did it leave a lasting impression? Tan's selections are holding up pretty well. I won't soon forget 'The Hermit's Story', the first entry in her book. I discovered something very remarkable when I read it, but I can't share it because I don't want to ruin the story for you.
These anthologies reflect the taste of the guest editor, as well as the skill of the chosen writers, but why not? Katrina Kenison, the Series Editor, says there's a surfeit of great material, so why shouldn't the guest editor reflect her outlook with her selection.
I think Tan's stories show she is very interested in the 'minority' viewpoint. You might imagine this occurs because Amy Tan is a Chinese descent American, and maybe it does. However, when I use the term minority I mean interestingly idiosyncratic.
Odd and unusual people populate these stories, and odd things happen to them. Of course, if they didn't have unusual experiences we might not find the energy to finish the page.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
Amy Tan has done a good job selecting 1999's batch of stories for "Best American Short Stories"; I've read better volumes, but I've also read worse. My favorite story was Tim Gautreaux's "The Piano Tuner," a hilarious, unnerving tale about the advantages and disadvanages of "fine-tuning" another person's character through the use of drugs or other modern methods. The next-best story, in my opinion, was Chitra Divakaruni's delightful and wistful "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter," another story about trying to change one's character in order to fit in with difficult surroundings, and the limits on one's ability to do so. Finally, my third-favorite selection was Rick Bass's "The Hermit's Story," a tale of rugged individualism and survival in a winter setting that ends with a wonderful image involving fire and a frozen lake, an image I won't spoil for you here.
This volume is certainly the most diverse edition of the series so far in terms of its authors' racial and cultural backgrounds--at least a third of the stories are by non-white authors or have non-white main characters. As Amy Tan notes, however, what matters more than racial or cultural diversity is diversity of voice and experience. I found more in common, for example, between "The Piano Tuner" and "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter," in both stories' focus on the theme of changing one's character and learning to adapt to unfamiliar surroundings, than I did between "The Piano Tuner" and, say, Annie Proulx's more impressionistic "The Bunchgrass Edge of the World" (another story about rural Americans); or between "Mrs.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By J. S. Sevakis on December 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
I have to admit, I really really loved this book. I don't get the time to read that often, and the short stories in here are exactly the kind that I like to lose myself in. Sure, some are a little bit slow-moving, but it's not a tedious slow, it's a Zen-slow. My favorites include Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter and The Piano Tuner. A great find, highly reccomended.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
Personally, I think Amy Tan is a fantastic author and I loved her introduction. However, I am probably in the minority in that I did not enjoy the Rick Bass story at all. It seemed to me that that story was attempting to shove the author's intentions of what the story was about down my throat. But hey, that's just my opinion. I loved "The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars" and "Mrs. Dutta Writes a Letter", but didn't think such stories as "Kansas" should have been included. It's not such a bad collection and it's interesting to read the vast array of short stories.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 16, 1999
Format: Paperback
I have to disagree with the other reviewers. Okay, there are a few duds -- but there are every year. This is a very good collection, and anyone who says that it is not does not like literary fiction. This is a surprisingly well rounded story-based collection, perhaps a bit slow moving, but rich and rewarding. Nathan Englander's allegorical story "The Tumblers" is worth the price of admission alone. And then there are excellent stories by Rick Bass, Annie Proulx, Hester Kaplan, Tim Gautreaux and others.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 19, 2000
Format: Paperback
I found this to be an excellent, thoughtfully assembled collection of stories. I must especially disagree with the reviewer who felt that having a b writer like Pam Houston in a collection with Rick Bass ammounts to a literary injustice. Quite to the contrary, Houston's story is the best in the book and bears re-reading. (And, if you've checked out John Updike's Best Short Stories of the Century, you'll note that her story was one of the few tales from the nineties to be included.) This is a slow, collection, certainly, which may turn off some readers. But I've thoroughly enjoyed it.
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