Best American Short Stories 1995

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  • The BestAME,RICANSFIORTSTORIE.S1995

  • 7G U E S T E D I T O R S O F

    T H E B E S T A M E R I C A N S H O R T S T O R I E S

    l g 7 8 T E D S O L O T A R O F F

    1 9 7 9 J O Y C E C A R O L O A T E S

    r g S o S T A N L E Y E L K r N

    l g S r H O R T E N S E C A L T S H E R

    l g 8 2 J o H N G A R D N E R

    l g 8 3 A N N E T Y L E R

    l g 8 4 J o H N U P D I K E

    r g 8 5 c A r L G o D w r N

    1 9 8 6 R A Y M O N D C A R V E R

    l g 8 7 A N N B E A T T T B

    l g 8 8 M A R K H E L P R T N

    r g S g M A R G A R E T A T w o o D

    r g g o R I C H A R D F O R D

    r 9 g r A L r c E A D A M S

    l g g 2 R o B E R T S T O N E

    1 g g 3 r . o u r s E E R D R T c H

    1 9 9 4 T O B T A S W O L F F

    r g g 5 J A N E S M T L E Y

  • The BestAME,RICANSFIORTSTORIE.S1995Selected fromU.S. and Canadian MagazinesbyJANE Sv t rLEYwi th K ITRINA KnNrso l t

    With an Introduction @ Jane Smiley

    ,d\H o u c g r o N M r r p r r N C o M P A N YB O S T O N . N E W Y O R K 1 9 9 5

  • Copyright @ rggb by Houghton Mifflin Company

    Introduction O rgg5 byJane Smiley

    A L L R I G H ' T S R E S E R V E D

    No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by anymeans, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by anyinformation storage or retrieval system without the prior written permission of thecoplright owner unless such copying is expressly permitted by federal coplrightlaw With the exception of nonprofit transcription in Braille, Houghton Mifflin isnot authorized to grant permission for further uses of coppighted selectionsreprinted in this book without the permission of their owners. Permission must beobtained from the individual copyright owners as identified herein. Acldress re-quests for permission to make copies of Houghton Mifflin material to Permissions,Houghton Miffl in company, zr5 ParkAvenue south, Newyork, Newyork roooq,.r ssN oo67-6233ISBN t> 'ggb-7rr8o-oI sBN o-B9b-7 L 179-7 (prrK.)Printed in the United States of America

    q u M r o g 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 r

    "The Behavior of the Hawkweeds" by Andrea Barrett. First published in TheMisson'ri Rniau. Copvright O .gg.t bv Atrdrea Barrett. Reprintercl b1 permission ofthe author.

    "Pagan Night" by Ihte Braverman. First published in zl'zzwA. copvright orgg4 by Kate Braverman. Reprinted by permission of the author.

    "Undertow" byJennifer Ci Cornell. First published in The IIeu Englanrt Rrntinu.Subsequently published in Departures ( r gg+, universiry of pittsburgh press), c.py-right @ lgg4 byJennifer fl cornell. Reprinted by permission of university ofPittshrrrgh Press.

    "HandJive" bv Andrew Cozine. First published in The lowrt, Reuiau. Copvright Olgg4 by Andrew Cozine. Reprinted by permission of the author.

    "The Ugliest House in the \4brld" bv Peter Ho Davies. First published in ThsAntioth Raiettl Copwight O , gg4 by Peter Ho Davies. Reprintecl by pennission ofthe author.

    "The Drowning" by Edu,ard f)elanel'. First published in 'l-he Atlantic Montttly.copyright o rgg,l by Edward Delanev. Reprinred bv permission of the aurhor.

    "The Angel Esmeralda" by Don Delillo. First published in Esquire. coplright or994 by Don Delil lo. Rcplintecl by permission of Thc \\:allace l-irerary AgcnqiInc.

    "So I Guess You Know What I Told Him" by Stephen Dobvr-rs. First prrblished inPkrughshares. coplright o rgg4 b,v stephen Dobyns. Reprintecl bv permission ofHarold Ober Associates Incorporared.

    "The Artist" by Edward Falco. First published in 'l-he Attantic ,\[on,th$. Copyright@ tgg4 by Edward Falco, Rcprintecl bv perrnission of the aurhor.

  • "Chiromancy" by Max Garland. First published in Thn New Englnnd Rniau.Copyright @ rgg4 by Max Garland. Reprinted by permission of Melanie JacksonAgency.

    "The Stucco House" by Ellen Gilchrist. First published in The Atlantic Monthly.Copyright @ rgg+ by Ellen Gilchrist. Reprinted by permission of Ellen Gilchristand Don Congdon Associates, Inc.

    'A Night's Work" byJairny Gordon. First published in Michigan Quarterly Reuiew.Copyright @ ,gg4 by.faimy Gordon. Reprinted by permission of the author.

    "Birthmates" by GishJen. First published in Ploughshares. Copyisht O 1994 byGish Jen. Reprinted by permission of the author.

    'Way Down Deep in theJungle" by ThomJones. First published in The Neut Yorker.Copyright @ , gg4 by Thom Jones. Reprinted by permission of the author.

    "Xuela" byJamaica Kincaid. First published in The Nau Ymhn. Coplright @ tgg4byJamaica Kincaid. Reprinted by permission of Wylie, Aitken & Stone, Inc.

    "Pity" by Avner Mandelman. First published in ZYZZWA. Coplright O rg94 byAvner Mandehnan. Reprinted by permission of the author.

    "Orienration" by Daniel Orozco. First published in The Seattk R.eaiatt. CopgightO ,gg4 by Daniel Orozco. Reprinted by permission of the author'

    "Leg" by Steven Polansky. First published in The Neu Yorker. Copyright @ ,994by Steven Polansky. Reprinted by permission of the author.

    "First, Body" by Melanie Rae Thon. First published in Antaans. Copyright @ t 994by Melanie Rae Thon. Reprinted by permission of the author.

    "Honored Guest" byJovWilliams. First published in Harper's Magazine. Copyright@ rgg4 byJoy Williams. Reprinted by permission of the author.

  • Contents

    Foreword viii

    Introduction byJane Smiley x

    DANIEL oRozco. Orientat ion rfrom 7'he .\eallle ]lraicu

    lHoM JoNE s. Why down Deep in the Jungle 7from The l,lrut Yorher

    ELLEN GILCr lR IST . T 'he S tucco House 3 rfrom The Atkrntic LIonthlry

    J A r M Y G o R D o N . A l { i g h t ' s W o r k 4 bfrom'l'he Michigan Quartuly Rniew

    A V N E R M A N D U T . M A N . P i t y 6 7

    from ZYZZII'A

    s T E V E N P O L A N S K Y . L t g 8 < t

    f'on'l'he l{ew Yorke.r

    PETER Ho DAVras. The Llgliest House in the World 94from I'he Anlioch lla'ieu,

    c ISH JEN. B i r thmates r l o

    fnnn Ploughshrtrcs

    E D w A R D J . D E I A N E v . T h e D r o u n i n g l z o

    .frorn The Atlantir: tIonth,ll

  • Contents

    JoY WrLLIAMs. Honored Guest L4Lfrom Harper's Magazine

    ANDREA BARRETT. The Behauior of the Hawkweeds r56

    from The Mis.souri Rniatt

    A N D R E w c o z I N E . H a n d J i u e L 7 5.from The lowa Reuiew

    STEPHEN DOYBYNS. SO I GUCSS YOU KNOW WhAt I TbTd HiMfrom Pl.oughshares

    JENNIFER c CORNELL . L l nde r tow 2 rofrom The New Engktnd Rniau

    KATE BRAVERMAN. Pagan l ,{ ight 23tfrom ZYZZWA

    MELANTE RAE THoN. F i rs f , Body 219.from Antaeus

    DoN DELILLo . The Angel Esmnalda 263from Esquire

    EDWARD FALCo . TheAr t i s t 284from The Atlantic Monthly

    MAX GARLANn. Chi romanq 3o2from The New Englnnd Rniau

    J A M A T C A K T N C A I D . x u e l a g L 3from The Nan Yorhsr

    Contributors' Notes ZZz

    roo Other Distinguished Stories of t994 349

    Editorial Addresses of American and Canadian MagazinesPublishing Short Stories Zbg

    \al

    r95

  • Foreword

    ANyoNE wHo HAS ever thrown aparty knows the queasiness of thelast hour: everything is ready, and you are alone. What if no onecomes? I feel a similar apprehension each spring as I plant my garden.It 's a long week spent haul ing compost and peat moss, weeding andt.illing, and, finally, dropping impossibly tiny seeds into furrows ofearth. After all this, I can't help but think, what if nothing comesup? Each winter, as I clean out my old short story files and pack up thepast vear's journals ancl magazines, I'm left lvith the same mixtureof anticipation and anxietv: With last year's stclries selected, it is timeto begin the whole process of reading and choosins again. But Iworrv. \r\hat if there are no dazzling stories this year? what if no oneshows up?

    Of course, the guests always arrive; it is human natlrre to want tobe included. And, ofcourse, the garden plot soon brist les rvith greennubs, for even the tiniest seed harbors rvithin it a clestinl - eive it half'a chance and it srows. Yet when I harvest a fist-size tomato fourmonths later - fiont a plant that besan as a seed flake in my palmand is now taller than I - i1 5ssrns nothins short of miraculous.

    And yes, at the end of thc year there are ahvays more than enoughexceptional stories to fill an annual collection like T'he Best AmeficenShort storie.s.I may marvel at a weightv Better Bov, but I am visited byan even greater sense of lvonder when confronted by a fully realizeclshort stor1,. Year after yeaq rvriters, too, firlfill their own destinies,defving the obstacles and distractions of dailv life in order to get wordsonto the page and out into the world. Invariably, as the year draws t

  • Foreword

    predictable than the tomatoes. There are generally prize specimensty beloved authors, but there are many strange fruits as well. Eachone is unique, each the result of a tiny seed of inspiration plantedcleep within a particular psyche and allowed to flourish there.

    The contributors' essays at the back of this volume offer fascinatingglimpses into the myriad ways short stories come to life. In many cases'ihe origins of a story are no more substantial than the tiny seed which,nevertheless, harbors within itself the possibility of astonishing abun-dance. The images that gave rise to these stories are as varied as thestories themselves: a face on a billboard, a child asleep in a car seat,a shattered knee, a woman reading a man's palm by the light of herdashboard, a mural in Belfast, a dead body. The stories that grew outof these seemingly inconsequential images are as remarkable as anywonder of the natural world: the slow-ripened fruits of their creators'long labors. Perhaps, as the years roll on, I will begin to take more forgranted - the garden's annual production, the annual crop of shortstories. But I suspect that, like me, readers of this anthology willcontinue to be astonished at the seemingly infinite human capacity tocreate.

    Jane Smiley, this year's guest editoq says she found herself drawn tostories with a "sharp and exotic flavor." Her final selections attest tothe diversity of this year's short stories - the harvest was plentiful anddiffuse. Still, the stories she chose coalesced almost instantly into anorganic whole, without any behind-the-scenes tugging and pulling forshape and balance. Jane Smiley brought both a keen appetite and arefined. palate to her task. The result is a collection that, once assem-bled, seemed inevitable. We are grateful for her time and, even more'for the enthusiasm and good judgment with which she read.

    The stories chosen for this anthology were originally published inmagazines issued betweenJanuary 1994 andJanuary l995.The quali-fications for selections are ( r ) original publication in nationally dis-tributed American or Canadian periodicals; (z) publication in Englishby writers who are American or Canadian, or who have made theUnited States or Canada their home; (3) publication as short stories(novel excerpts are not knowingly considered)' A list of magazinesconsulted for this volume appears at the back of the book. Publicationsthat want to assure that their fiction is considered each year shouldinclude the series editor on their subscription list (Katrina Kenison, TheBest Amuican Short Stmies, Houghton Mifflin Company, zzz BerkeleyStreet, Boston, Massachusetts 02 tt!3764) '

    KK.

    IX

  • Introd,uction

    r AM Nor a good reader. I am slow and not very determined. Inever make myself read a book to the end if I get bored in themiddle. I am not especially forgiving - there are whole oeuwesof important and profound writers that I haven't read because Iwas put off by some quirk in the aurhor's style. I like murdermysteries and magazine pieces about the five types of relationshipsthat will never go anlwhere. When magiaines about horses andothers about important social and political issues arrive the sameday, I always read the horse magazines first. I read Tina Brown'sl{ew Yorker more eagerly than I used to read William Shawn's ly'ezuYorker

    More important, for the purposes of this collection, I always readthe short story in any magazine last rather than first, and oftenwith reluctance. The short story is the most clemanding piece inthe magazine because it has the strongest voice. Rather than theshared voice of standard prose, like the voice of the.journalismand the essays and the ads, it is a voice idiosyncratic enough to bea little threatening, a little difficult. A novel gives a reader time toorient herself to that private voice, but with a short story, it's thereand then gone, almost too much to take.

    For that reason, that I am too slolv and selfish a reacler to keepup with contemporary short fiction, I was delighted to be askedto read for this collection and choose my favorites. I had no ideawhat to expect and was too busv to think about it anywa;,, so myfirst response on receiving the stories was to count them and tocalculate how many I had to read each day in order ro meet my

  • Introduction xl

    deadline. That calculation was two. It was late October, a good timeto begin a serious reading regime. I read at bedtime and in theearly morning, in the bathtub and in front of Barney on airplanesand car trips, in the middle of the night in the middle of St.Petersburg, Russia, in Boston, Massachusetts, in Pasadena, Califor-nia, and in rural North Carolina.

    And it turned out that reading these authors heightened mysense of all the other authors, dead and alive, whose spirits andmanuscripts and first editions are carefully preserved in places likethe Dostoevsky and Akhmatova museums in Russia and the Hunt-ington Library in California. All the authors that I was reading andthinking about seemed to enter into a lively dialogue with oneanother, and to fertilize my inner life in a pleasing and invigoratingway, so that when I met my deadline and all the stories were read,I was sorry rather than glad.

    So I offer these twenty stories with both sorrow and gladness.\{hile they are the twenty that I preferred of the hundred andtwenty that I read, the pleasure that I had in reading the otherhundred certainly swelled, and in part created, the pleasure I feltin reading these. The reader of this volume is in somewhat thesame position as the listener to an opera-highlights recording -the music is thrilling and beautiful, but not as satis$zing as thewhole production.

    The order of the stories is neither alphabetical nor hierarchical,but, I hope, artful, in the way that a Chinese meal is artful - de-signed so that the flavors enhance one another as the feast pro-gresses. There are many sharp and exotic flavors here, but they areflavors of different varieties. I hope that each story serves to makethe reader hunger for the next one.

    The short story is an elusive, paradoxical form, not easily mas-tered, yet some of the best are written by beginning writers. Whilethe arc of a novelist's career is frequently easy to predict - com-plexity and wisdom that arise from more mature experience re-place an early freshness of subject and approach - things are moreproblematic for the short story writer. Myriad beginnings andendings and subjects and characters seem to call for more andmore inventiveness. The familiarity that soothes in the novel canseem repetitive in a series of short stories.

    The form itself is difficult - l...