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The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories Paperback – September 6, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Editor Wolff (This Boy's Life, LJ 1/89) describes the stories he selected for this volume as representing a reaction to the postmodern, self-conscious fictional attitude emerging from the Sixties. Realistic and convincing, these voices of the past decade and a half create a sense of kinship that remains with readers as insistently as do their own memories. This collection gives us 33 well-chosen stories. Side by side with classics by favorite writers-Raymond Carver, Ann Beattie, Richard Ford-are recent contributions by Dennis Johnson, Allan Gurganus, Thom Jones, and others. While these diverse stories defy categorization as an identifiable trend in writing, they do share exuberance and clarity, offering depictions of often painful contemporary situations softened by humor and honesty. Highly recommended.
Eleanor Mitchell Arizona State Univ., West Phoenix
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

For an enthralling collection that includes such classics as Raymond Carver's "Cathedral," "The Fat Girl" by Andre Dubus, "A Vintage Thunderbird" by Ann Beattie, and the more recent "Rules of the Game" from Amy Tan's book The Joy Luck Club, Wolff has selected finely crafted stories by writers at the peak of their form. In addition, Kate Braverman's contribution is a consummate example of the intensely realized situations all these stories unfailingly deliver. Her protagonist's powerful attraction to Lenny, a sleazy yet seductive hood, demonstrates a capacity for self-destruction that reverberates long after reading "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta." These satisfying stories validate the robust state of affairs of contemporary short fiction. Alice Joyce
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (September 6, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679745130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679745136
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,909 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By "litmag01" on March 17, 2001
Format: Paperback
"The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories" speaks with the intensity of liquor and fists. It lets loose on the gut of America.
Tobias Wolff, one of America's hardest hitting fiction writers, ("The Night in Question: Stories" and "In the Garden of North American Martyrs") has hammered together one of the best collections of modern fiction--far better than any individual "Best of..." collection.
If you are drawn, like me, to the intensity and disillusionment present in American literature at the turn of the century (i.e. Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald) this book may be what you have been looking for in contemporary writers. Including such staples of the contemporary cannon as Raymond Carver, Andre Dubuse, Amy Tan, Joyce Carol Oates this book packs in the best of modern short fiction and restores the genre to its former revered status.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By M. Wegley on March 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
Tobias Wollf, himself an excellent practitioner of the short story, does not include a work of his own in this wonderful collection (save a very thoughtful introduction). This is one of the most well edited collections of contemporary short stories on the market. It may be a few years old by now, but most of the "must read" writers, as well as surprisingly good lesser-knowns are included. Raymond Carver and Andre Dubus, sadly no longer contemporary in the strict sense, live on within these pages alongside excellent new voices. Two stories that really stand out for me are John L'Heureux's "Departures," a very deep and moving narrative, and Ralph Lombreglia's "Men Under Water," a beautiful alchemy of the dreams and realities of contemporary life. The selections written by Jamaica Kincaid, Joyce Carol Oates, Tim O'Brien, and Denis Johnson are so well picked, they seem to capture a bit of the authors themselves, as well as a portion of their writing. Because of these atttributes, I think the Vintage Book of Contempory Short Stories is both valuable for personal collections and for use in the classroom. It does the job that all compilations are supposed to, but seldom do, accomplish. It exemplifies the current breadth and depth of this contemporary artform.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Chris Parker on May 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
If you're tired of the predictable mediocrity of most of the short story collections flooding today's market I encourage you to pick this book up, it may open your eyes up to some of the more overlooked story writers of today. Tobias Wolff does a great job combining some of the finest mainstream stories of the later part of the 20th century with some less predictable, more intriguing selections. The result a consistently excellent collection.
Among the many highlights in the collection, among them Kate Braverman's hypnotic "Tall Tales From the Mekong Delta", Raymond Carver's "Cathedral" in which Carver actually takes a step toward justifying the hype surrounding often over rated work, Mary Gaitskill's "A Romantic Weekend" a take on sadomasochism that is at once cold and humorous, Barry Hannah's "Testimony of Pilot", Thom Jones' "A White Horse", Robert Stone's "Helping", and John Edgar Wideman's "Daddy Garbage", but the two highest points of the collection, as they would be in any other collection, are Denis Johnson's "Emergency" and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried". The first, from Johnson's indispensable collection "Jesus' Son", is halucinogenic, unnerving and beautiful. In "Emergency" Denis Johnson reveals his uncanny ability to draw the reader into the fabric of his story to the point where one believes that he is an actual physical observer of the events portrayed. Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" is equally evocative, but in a much more overt and emotional way.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Socratic Seminars on February 12, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Is brilliant. I bought this book for my Lit class and despite the fact that we've only been assigned a few of the stories, I can't seem to put it down. Every story is it's own little world and from story to story, you can feel the world shift around you. Whether you're with a blind man in the 50s or a crazy orderly on stolen meds, you get sucked straight into the atmosphere of each point of view. You may cry, you may get angry, you may smile, you may vomit, but every story is worth working through. A quick warning, there are some pretty rough stories in this book, it's not really for light reading. But if you want to really feel what you are reading, as opposed to cruising the newest 50 Shades novel, this may be one of the greatest collections you will ever read.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kirk McElhearn VINE VOICE on July 31, 2014
Format: Paperback
This is a curious book, and the title itself is misleading. Published in 1993, this book is not in any way "contemporary," though, at the time it was published, it might have been considered to be so. With stories from the 1970s and 1980s, all the writing in this collection is more than a generation old. It would be more appropriate for Vintage to change the title to reflect the fact that it was published more than twenty years ago.

I've read about half the book so far, and I'm struck by two things. First, almost all of the stories are about 18-22 pages, or around 10,000 words. (This isn't the case later in the book, where there are some shorter stories.) Stories at this length are still "short," but they're "longish-short," and aren't necessarily indicative of the genre. Many of them feel more like chapters from novels, with the kind of ambiguous resolution at the end which suggests another chapter to come.

The second thing that bothers me is that so many of the stories are about violence. There's suicide, rape, S&M, parents beating children... It's as if Tobias Wolff has only one kind of short story he appreciates. This gives a very skewed view of the American short story of the 1970s and 1980s. To be honest, I haven't really enjoyed any of the dozen stories I've read in the first half of the book. I feel sorry for any college student who is assigned this book as being representative of American fiction.

So, if you want a collection of recent American short stories, you might want to look elsewhere. Both Scribner and Ecco have anthologies that are more recent, and that include stories that are more correctly contemporary.
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