The Best American Short Stories 1990

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Richard Ford’s tastes obviously run to good, down-to-earth yarns; there is nothing high-flown about these stories. They are about ordinary people—the disenchanted young wife of a fireman, a reformed drug addict, a child of the New York ghetto, an unemployed steelworker—and have in common a preoccupation with the human condition. The antagonists are, for the most part, internal; the tension comes from the protagonists struggling to adapt to, rather than fight, an external reality. Yet the stories are not insular or claustrophobic. There is a kind of healthy outdoorsiness to the selections, and the external world is very real. In one tale, “River of Toys,” the setting is the heart of the story. In another, “Nothing to Ask For,” the last days of an AIDS victim are recounted by a close heterosexual friend.

The writers represented here included established figures such as Richard Bausch as well as younger writers such as Madison Smartt Bell, Padgett Powell, and Dennis McFarland; most of the contributors are American, but Alice Munro, a Canadian writer whose work often appears in these annual volumes, has two stories in this year’s group of twenty.

In addition to the stories themselves, the volume features an interesting section of contributors’ notes in which the births of the stories are described by their authors. The volume also includes a list of one hundred other distinguished stories of 1989 and the addresses of American and Canadian magazines which publish short stories.