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Best American Short Stories

'The Best American Short Stories'
Guest edited by Salman Rushdie; series editor Heidi Pitlor
Published by Houghton Mifflin, 384 pages, $28

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For more than 30 years, a guest editor has made the final selections for inclusion in the "Best American Short Stories." This year, Salman Rushdie, the Indian-British novelist, chose the stories collected in this distinguished annual anthology.

In his introduction, Rushdie acknowledges what a privilege it is for him, a non-American, to be guest editor. But he is not the first non-American editor: Canadian Margaret Atwood guest-

edited in 1989. Rushdie describes what he fears finding in a story: "a widespread, humorless, bloodless competence." In the end, though, he found "forty-odd first-rate stories when we had room for only twenty."

Those stories include realism and naturalism, and fables and fantasy, which we would expect in selections made by Rushdie. We're also not surprised, in a collection of this sort, to read stories written by consummate practitioners like T.C. Boyle, Alice Munro and Tobias Wolff.

Boyle's "Admiral" is the humorous story of young woman who has been hired to care for an Afghan hound, Admiral, cloned from the original Admiral that she used to dog-sit. "Child's Play," by Alice Munro, is the reminiscence of a woman's horrible secret from her childhood when she was away at camp. In Wolff's "Bible" a woman is abducted by a man whose son, Hassan, she kicked out of class for cheating.

While the stories by these old hands are strong, some of the most powerful stories are by relative unknowns: Allegra Goodman, Mark Wisniewski, Bradford Tice, Kevin Brockmeier and Katie Chase.

Perhaps the best of all the stories, no matter their author's fame, is Goodman's allegorical "Closely Held." It's the story of a programmer, Orion, who has started ISIS, a private Internet security company that is about to go public. Orion, despite his success, becomes increasingly distant from his company and his wife.

In "The Year of Silence," a fantasy by Kevin Brockmeier, a town mysteriously becomes silent for a few seconds, and then for longer and longer moments, until its citizens mistakenly decide to deaden all of the sounds in the city. Brockmeier's writing is vigorous and vivid, but the ending is a tad gimmicky.

Although it's a powerful and provocative story — and her first published short story — Katie Chase's "Man and Wife" is sure to make some readers cringe. Originally published in the Missouri Review, this fable is set in a modern Western society, where girls as young as 9, like the protagonist Mary Ellen, are promised and married to much older men.

Rushdie's selections reflect his own broad taste. One of his selection criteria is "Good is good and bad is bad," he quips. But later he writes, "Some of these stories are immense, the so-called 'grand narratives' of nation, race, and faith, and others are small: family stories, and stories of elective affinities, of the friends we choose, the places we know, and the people we love."

How good Rushdie was at assembling this anthology: a variety of writers, famous to first-timers, sifted from major magazines and little reviews, grand and little worlds.

Joseph Peschel is a writer in South Dakota.

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