Guest editor and acclaimed author Tom Perrotta (The Leftovers, 2011) has selected winning and wildly entertaining stories for this annual anthology series. Raymond Carver and David Foster Wallace are the totems of Perrotta’s literary aesthetic. Embracing both, he remarkably moves past the now-tired debate of minimalism versus maximalism, and unsurprisingly (and correctly) arrives at Alice Munro as the “acknowledged master” of the form. Munro’s superb “Axis” is a sparkling example of Perrotta’s platonic ideal of combining “amplitude and compression” in a “handful of tightly focused scenes.” The best stories here succeed in doing so, notably Nathan Englander’s “What We Talk about When We Talk about Anne Frank.” A seductive and bemused peek into the backrooms of American Jewish anxiety (marital and otherwise), this gem deserves all the praise it is receiving. Among the many winners in the collection, Eric Puchner’s chilling and humane sci-fi tale “Beautiful Monsters” and newcomer Roxanne Gay’s “North Country,” a humorous, sexy, and melancholy take on the pain and absurdity of loss and isolation, stand out. Both shine as examples of Perrotta’s preference for “plain, artful language about ordinary people.” The Contributors’ Notes provide intimate first-person insights into the backgrounds and thoughts of the authors, enhancing the reading experience. --Jonathan Schwartz
"The best short storiees are small only when measured by the number of pages. Editor Tom Perrotta, best known for his novels Election and Little Children assembles a stellar collection of 20 stories that create their own worlds in 20 pages or less."