The Best American Short Stories 2004

ISBN: 0618197354
ISBN 13: 9780618197354
By: Lorrie Moore Katrina Kenison

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About this book

Since its inception in 1915, the Best American series has become the premier annual showcase for the country's finest short fiction and nonfiction. For each volume, a series editor reads pieces from hundreds of periodicals, then selects between fifty and a hundred outstanding works. That selection is pared down to twenty or so very best pieces by a guest editor who is widely recognized as a leading writer in his or her field. This unique system has helped make the Best American series the most respected -- and most popular -- of its kind. Lorrie Moore brings her keen eye for wit and surprise to the volume, and The Best American Short Stories 2004 is an eclectic and enthralling gathering of well-known voices and talented up-and-comers. Here are stories that probe the biggest issues: ambition, gender, romance, war. Here are funny and touching and striking tales of a Spokane Indian, the estranged wife of an Iranian immigrant, an American tutor in Bombay. In her introduction Lorrie Moore writes, "The stories collected here impressed me with their depth of knowledge and feeling of character, setting, and situation . . . They spoke with amused intelligence, compassion, and dispassion."

Reader's Thoughts


Love this series and I'll get it every year.


I typically read speculative fiction. That is, stories centered on characters in extraordinary situations, the times or the technology used to illustrate either the macroscopic view of humanity as a cynical waste or an affirming animal, or focused pieces that highlight the power of family, friendship,and the perils of temptation, set against myriad backdrops of technology and the supernatural. Literary fiction is much the same, save that it removes the technology and supernatural, and places things in the real world, where the writer's imagination is limited by the concrete. This both gives the writer room to expand on character and limits the availability of plots. That being said, this particular collection focuses a lot on character pieces. Nearly every story has a lot of room taken up by exposition, flashbacks that highlight character traits and motives while taking time, sweet, lengthy time, with the plot. All of the stories take the microscopic road, analyzing character against dysfunctional family, loss (both physical and emotional), loneliness, and nostalgia. It has its highlights and lowlights, but the collection as a whole, while superior in story quality (this is, after all, the BEST short fiction) fails to deliver enough story diversity, choosing to play it safe and present yarns that are, for the most part, safe choices that become repetitive in style the further one reads.Lowlights: "Limestone Diner"-An abundance of overwhelming, colorful, fruity, fizzy, describingful adjectives. "Some Other, Better Otto"-Sharon and Portia are fantastic characters, the most interesting by far. And they are physically present in this bloated tale of family dysfunction for maybe a fifth of its length. Honorable mention: William"Written in Stone"-Let's all reflect on a broken marriage for a while and have some food. Highlights:"Tooth and Claw"-An offbeat tale by the king of offbeat literary writers, T.C. Boyle, about a lovesick loner who wins a serval in a game of dice"All Saint's Day"-A story about an exorcism, and the power of the human will as demonstrated by precocious children. The most surprising story in the bunch. What You Pawn I Will Redeem-Sherman Alexie rocks. Docent-A tour (literally) through the Lee Chapel at Washington and Lee University. The most experimental story (narratively speaking) of the bunch.The Walk With Elizanne-John Updike's story of reflection on the innocence of youth and the realities of age will make you giddy for your memories and excited at the prospect of relationships as they evolve throughout the decades.

Joyce Sigler

Short stories are my favorite! Bought this one because of the exceptional list of authors. It will not disappoint you!


Stories I especially liked:A Rich Man by Edward P. JonesIntervention by Jill McCorkleRunaway by Alice MunroWhat You Pawn I will Redeem by Sherman AlexieWritten in Stone by Catherine BradyAccomplice by Sarah Shun-Lien BynumScreenwriter by Charles D’AmbrosioThe Tutor by Nell Freudenberger

Aaron Goodier

I had to read this for a fiction writing class, and I thought that was so bogus.


While reviewing every story in this anthology would be beyond the limits of my attention span, the 2004 edtion contains my favorite story by Sherman Alexie, ¨I Will Redeem What You Pawn,¨ I believe is the title.While I´ve long been an admirer of Alexie´s writing, I haven´t ever much liked Alexie as a person; a lot of a person´s attitudes about life come through in their writing, and while I appreciate Alexie´s fearlessness, wry, ironic humor, and compassion for native peoples living in the modern world, his writing has always lacked that more general compassion for people, all people, as twisted and damaged as we are. This story changed my mind about that. Such genuine warmth for Seattle, all the people in Seattle, and just people in general, shone through in this story. I was living in Seattle myself when I read this story, and I also love the city, and I suddenly found myself relating to Alexie as a person as I read this story.

Wendy Mccracken

I pick this up between books I'm reading - they're usually pretty good selections!


(before reading)Something I recently posted on a writing forum had been compared to an author that shows up in this collection. Naturally, I looked said author up and grabbed the first thing I could get my hands on with a sample of his writing. This should be interesting... (after reading)I'm not mentioning any names after reading this, but I don't see the comparison. After that comparison I like comparisons even less.Regarding the collection: Eh... The title seems a bit of a misnomer. To clarify—this is a collection of short stories that seems more like a collection of character developments that all wound up being very close to stories. Not all of them, mind you, but a large percentage. Just to stay honest, there are a few good stories here.If you're looking for a good example of character development, look no further.


I wish I could say that Best 2004 took so long to read because I was savoring each story, but not so much. Of the twenty stories in the anthology, I would say I liked about half of them. That makes it the most disappointing of these collections that I have read (I’d read five of them before this one).I like reading stories from newly discovered authors, but the strongest stories this year came from seasoned storywriters – Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, and John Updike. Many of the other stories were instantly forgettable. I think one of the reasons that it took so long to get through the collection was the fact that many stories didn’t make me want to take the book out whenever I could squeeze some reading in. Instead, the book stayed in my briefcase and was only read while I was on the train.


Though they tend to be overly long, these stories are good enough that I kept teaching this edition until 2012, when it was no longer available.


Favorite stories:"Tooth and Claw" - T.C. Boyle"Accomplice" - Bynum"Some Other, Better Otto" - D. Eisenberg"Intervention" - McCorkle"Runaway" - Munro"A Walk with Elizanne" - Updike


There are some excellent stories in this collection. Some I like better than others, but all are wonderful reading. Nice way to sample the short stories published in a year. I may have to start picking these up every year.


I enjoyed this collection moreso than the collection of essays of the same year. Some of these stories I even enjoyed quite a bit. However, even in this, none of the stories sits with me as I reflect back a month or more to when I read them. Once or twice I tried to take note of the author's name because I liked a piece, but I haven't yet found myself interested enough to seek out new works by any of these writers.In one or two cases, I found the works to be rather pretentious -- writing more to a style for the age, rather than crafting an interesting story.This was a good book to have on hand for the occassion when I was looking for a short work that I could read in one sitting, but not one that I will refer to time and again. My local library will enjoy the donation.

Nana Fredua-Agyeman

The anthology, of twenty short stories, had both interesting and less interesting stories, some of them almost novella-length. Intransigently American, there are several of the stories whose appreciation is linked to the appreciation of the American culture and other sub-cultures. It reminded me of what Horace Engdahl, the permanent secretary of the Nobel Prize jury, said in 2008, that "The US is too isolated, too insular. They don't translate enough and don't really participate in the big dialogue of literature...That ignorance is restraining." I'm not a student of literature and so cannot say for certainty that these words are true but reading the stories, this statement crossed my mind.Read the rest here


Of course, I can't (or won't) review each story. I recommend "Accomplice" by Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum. But the collection as a whole doesn't really impress me. The stories tend towards the long side, which I disapprove of arbitrarily. I also found many of the selections to be mediocre, regardless of length. I would get recommendations rather than trudging through the whole thing yourself.

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