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This highly Acclaimed collection of short stories by American writers contains only the best literary art of the past four decades. With a bias toward realism editors Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks have selected fiction that “tells a story”–and tells it with a masterful handling of language, situation, and insight. But what is so special about this volume is that it mirrors o This highly Acclaimed collection of short stories by American writers contains only the best literary art of the past four decades. With a bias toward realism editors Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks have selected fiction that “tells a story”–and tells it with a masterful handling of language, situation, and insight. But what is so special about this volume is that it mirrors our age, our concerns, and our lives. Whether it’s the end of a marriage, as in Bobbie Ann Manson’s “Shiloh,” or the struggle with self-esteem and weight in Andre Dubus’s “The Fat Girl,” the 36 works included her probe issues that give us that “shock of recognition” that is the hallmark of great art—wonderful, absorbing fiction that will be read and reread for decades to come.


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This highly Acclaimed collection of short stories by American writers contains only the best literary art of the past four decades. With a bias toward realism editors Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks have selected fiction that “tells a story”–and tells it with a masterful handling of language, situation, and insight. But what is so special about this volume is that it mirrors o This highly Acclaimed collection of short stories by American writers contains only the best literary art of the past four decades. With a bias toward realism editors Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks have selected fiction that “tells a story”–and tells it with a masterful handling of language, situation, and insight. But what is so special about this volume is that it mirrors our age, our concerns, and our lives. Whether it’s the end of a marriage, as in Bobbie Ann Manson’s “Shiloh,” or the struggle with self-esteem and weight in Andre Dubus’s “The Fat Girl,” the 36 works included her probe issues that give us that “shock of recognition” that is the hallmark of great art—wonderful, absorbing fiction that will be read and reread for decades to come.

30 review for American Short Story Masterpieces: A Rich Selection of Recent Fiction from America's Best Modern Writers

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kimber

    Anthologies are always such a hodge podge. My favorites in this one: Sonny's Blues by Baldwin, Weekend by Beattie, Fever by Carver and Shiloh by Mason. One thing I want to say though: Bobbie Ann Mason amazes me. Anthologies are always such a hodge podge. My favorites in this one: Sonny's Blues by Baldwin, Weekend by Beattie, Fever by Carver and Shiloh by Mason. One thing I want to say though: Bobbie Ann Mason amazes me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

    With 500+ pages and 36 stories, you'll get your money's worth (and then some since this is a mass market paperback), but your "masterpiece" mileage may vary. Some of the stories I'd wager were only included because they tinkered with the short story format, but that kind of tinkering is old hat now so the masterpiece mantle doesn't fit very well anymore-see "The Amish Farmer" by Vance Bourjaily. None of the reviewers can agree on what the best or worst stories were, so here are my random thoughts With 500+ pages and 36 stories, you'll get your money's worth (and then some since this is a mass market paperback), but your "masterpiece" mileage may vary. Some of the stories I'd wager were only included because they tinkered with the short story format, but that kind of tinkering is old hat now so the masterpiece mantle doesn't fit very well anymore-see "The Amish Farmer" by Vance Bourjaily. None of the reviewers can agree on what the best or worst stories were, so here are my random thoughts because random is what I do best. • Favorite: “Walking Out” by David Quammen. I would never, NEVER have predicted a story by a writer I’d never heard of about hunting of all things would be my favorite, but this story is just about perfect: evocative, absorbing, haunting ending. It was also just turned into a movie of the same name. • Other top tier stories: “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, “Fever” by Raymond Carver, “The Lover of Horses” by Tess Gallagher, and “Akhnilo” by James Salter. • Other stories I liked: “Talk of Heroes” by Carol Bly, "Shiloh" by Bobbie Ann Mason, “The Magic Barrel” by Bernard Malamud, “Verona: A Young Woman Speaks” by Harold Brodkey, “Weekend” by Ann Beattie, “Rock Springs” by Richard Ford, “Water Liars” by Barry Hannah, “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates (adapted into the movie Smooth Talk), “The Heavenly Animal” by Jayne Anne Phillips, “The Wedding” by Joy Williams, “Redemption” by John Gardner, “Dream Children” by Gail Godwin, and “The Liar” by Tobias Wolff. • Story I begrudgingly liked: “A Good Man is Hard to Find” by Flannery O’Connor. Maybe she was a lovely woman, but I can’t shake the feeling that O’Connor was a sanctimonious asshole. All of her stories are about people with moral failings who end up getting maimed or killed in some spectacular fashion, their comeuppance often highly disproportionate to their misdeeds. The schadenfreude is not cute. Having said all that, this is probably one of her best. • Stories I didn’t like: “A Poetics for Bullies” by Stanley Elkin, “Letters from the Samantha” by Mark Helprin, and “The Misfits” by Arthur Miller. • “You could have picked any story by {writer} and THIS is the one you picked?” stories: The Ursula K. Le Guin (“Ile Forest”) and John Updike (“The Christian Roommates”) were both just fair. If you were going to go with ONE Le Guin story, I cannot imagine why you’d chose anything other than “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.” This collection was edited by Carver and Tom Jenks. It’s maybe a bit unusual that a writer would select a story by himself and his girlfriend/later wife (Tess Gallagher) in an anthology they were editing, but Carver and Gallagher also had two of the best stories in the bunch. Jenks explains in the preface that they excluded writers who were included in the Short Story Masterpieces anthology, which somewhat explains the gaping abyss left by not including John Cheever. (And, how is there no Truman Capote?) The fact that there is almost no agreement on what stories were good or bad would make this great classroom discussion material, although some of the stories are too explicit to ever fly at the high school level.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I loved reading this book. I'm sad that it's over. I always forget how much I like short stories, so I don't read enough of them. This was a fun collection because it's filled with 20th-century American stories, most of which I'd never read in an anthology before. Some that I really enjoyed: Midair (Frank Conroy) The Fat Girl (Andre Dubus) Dream Children (Gail Godwin) Christian Roomates (John Updike) A Poetics for Bullies (Stanley Elkin) Fever (Raymond Carver) Rock Springs (Richard Ford) and the one tha I loved reading this book. I'm sad that it's over. I always forget how much I like short stories, so I don't read enough of them. This was a fun collection because it's filled with 20th-century American stories, most of which I'd never read in an anthology before. Some that I really enjoyed: Midair (Frank Conroy) The Fat Girl (Andre Dubus) Dream Children (Gail Godwin) Christian Roomates (John Updike) A Poetics for Bullies (Stanley Elkin) Fever (Raymond Carver) Rock Springs (Richard Ford) and the one that I can't get out of my head (though I didn't think I'd like it much when I started) is Walking Out (David Quammen). Anyway, I highly recommend the collection. It's great for a straight read-through or sporadic reading.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jess

    Jenks is the master. Read and learn.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Riden

    An excellent source for writers looking for stories against which to gauge their own work; also for any enthusiast of short stories who hasn't read some of the stories included in this collection. I found some to like and some that I didn't care for. This kind of reading helps me in so many ways with my own writing, from setting standards, to simply broadening my horizons. There is something here for everyone who likes short stories. I doubt I will ever be "done" with reading these stories. Also, An excellent source for writers looking for stories against which to gauge their own work; also for any enthusiast of short stories who hasn't read some of the stories included in this collection. I found some to like and some that I didn't care for. This kind of reading helps me in so many ways with my own writing, from setting standards, to simply broadening my horizons. There is something here for everyone who likes short stories. I doubt I will ever be "done" with reading these stories. Also, any non-writers who love stories will undoubtedly find things to like here. There is a second Editor who was not mentioned in this listing: Tom Jenks, Author of "A Poerics of Fiction," a very respectable craft book for advanced writers. in this book, he has authored what some may consider the definitive work on fiction craft. It's claimed to be the equivalent for a full MFA in Creative Writing. Judge for yourself if you can justify the cost which is around $250 per copy; like a very deep and detailed, respected specialty textbook. Who knows? I can't afford it yet. But back to my point: he's a respected Editor and mentor of Editors. No doubt his contribution to this story collection affected the quality of the selections.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michele

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I read this book on and off for over a year. The book, itself, was well put together with short stories written by masters. The story selection and authorship was diverse and interesting. I did, however, discover that I am not really fond of the 'short story'. I do not like being left hanging, which so many short stories seem to do, just drop off. Unlike in a conversation where one might be telling a story -as in any of these short stories- and then just drop off, the listener could ask, "What h I read this book on and off for over a year. The book, itself, was well put together with short stories written by masters. The story selection and authorship was diverse and interesting. I did, however, discover that I am not really fond of the 'short story'. I do not like being left hanging, which so many short stories seem to do, just drop off. Unlike in a conversation where one might be telling a story -as in any of these short stories- and then just drop off, the listener could ask, "What happened then?" When getting dropped off the end of a short story, the author just leaves us hanging. Nearly all of these short story masterpieces were like that for me. I appreciated the excellent and varied writing styles, which is what keep me reading; otherwise, it was relatively unfulfilling reading.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    This is a dense collection and it takes perseverance at times to make the switches between stories. I found so many gems believing as I read I’d found my “favorite” but the last (“The Liar”) was indeed the one.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laura Helle

    I like reading short story collections when life is crazy and I don't have the endurance for anything more. Some of the stories were misses for me, but enough hits to recommend it wholeheartedly. Thanks mom and dad for a great Christmas present! I like reading short story collections when life is crazy and I don't have the endurance for anything more. Some of the stories were misses for me, but enough hits to recommend it wholeheartedly. Thanks mom and dad for a great Christmas present!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cathy Ryan

    Collection of literary short stories that give a "shock of recognition that is the hallmark of great art." By accomplished writers from 1948-1984. Well worth reading over again. Many great examples of the literary short story form. Collection of literary short stories that give a "shock of recognition that is the hallmark of great art." By accomplished writers from 1948-1984. Well worth reading over again. Many great examples of the literary short story form.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Susanna Grant

    an astoundingly good collection of short stories, my husband and I discovered this awesome little book right at the beginning of our marriage and immensely enjoyed reading thru these

  11. 4 out of 5

    Melinda Christensen

    I've just decided that I can't really get emotionally involved in a story that is short. I've just decided that I can't really get emotionally involved in a story that is short.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Hobbs

    Read so far: Sonny's blues / James Baldwin --4 *Weekend / Ann Beattie -- *The bystander / Gina Berriault -- Talk of heroes / Carol Bly --2 The Amish farmer / Vance Bourjaily --3 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 / Richard Brautigan -- Verona : a young woman speaks / Harold Brodkey --2 *Fever / Raymond Carver -- The fisherman from Chihuahua / Evan S. Connell --2 Midair / Frank Conroy --2 *Willi / E.L. Doctorow -- The fat girl / Andre Dubus --3 A poetics for bullies / Stanley Elkin --2 Rock springs / Richard Ford --2 *The lover of Read so far: Sonny's blues / James Baldwin --4 *Weekend / Ann Beattie -- *The bystander / Gina Berriault -- Talk of heroes / Carol Bly --2 The Amish farmer / Vance Bourjaily --3 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 / Richard Brautigan -- Verona : a young woman speaks / Harold Brodkey --2 *Fever / Raymond Carver -- The fisherman from Chihuahua / Evan S. Connell --2 Midair / Frank Conroy --2 *Willi / E.L. Doctorow -- The fat girl / Andre Dubus --3 A poetics for bullies / Stanley Elkin --2 Rock springs / Richard Ford --2 *The lover of horses / Tess Gallagher -- Redemption / John Gardner --2 Dream children / Gail Godwin --3 The ledge / Lawrence Sargent Hall --3 *Water liars / Barry Hannah -- Letters from the Samantha / Mark Helprin --3 Ile forest / Ursula K. Le Guin -- *The magic barrel / Bernard Malamud -- Shiloh / Bobbie Ann Mason --4 *The story of a scar / James Alan McPherson -- *Murderers / Leonard Michaels -- *The misfits / Arthur Miller -- Where are you going, where have you been? / Joyce Carol Oates --3 A good man is hard to find / Flannery O'Connor --4 *The used-boy raisers / Grace Paley -- The heavenly animal / Jayne Anne Phillips -- Walking out / David Quammen -- The conversion of the Jews / Philip Roth --2 Akhnilo / James Salter -- The Christian roommates / John Updike -- The wedding / Joy Williams -- *The liar / Tobias Wolff--

  13. 4 out of 5

    Juliet

    Actually, I'm not sure I'll ever be finished reading this -- in a good way. I pick this up when I'm between novels, open randomly and flip until I find a story I haven't read yet and read that. Some of the stories are good and some are phenomenal. The phenomenal ones I've read several times, and I expect I'll read them several times more. Tip top favorites include: "Sonny's Blues" - James Baldwin - guy picks up his brother from jail after being arrested for heroin "Walking Out" - David Quammen - k Actually, I'm not sure I'll ever be finished reading this -- in a good way. I pick this up when I'm between novels, open randomly and flip until I find a story I haven't read yet and read that. Some of the stories are good and some are phenomenal. The phenomenal ones I've read several times, and I expect I'll read them several times more. Tip top favorites include: "Sonny's Blues" - James Baldwin - guy picks up his brother from jail after being arrested for heroin "Walking Out" - David Quammen - kid goes on hunting trip w/ father, accidentally shoots father "The Magic Barrel" - Bernard Malamud - rabbi-to-be hires a matchmaker to find him a wife "Redemption" - John Gardner - kid accidentally kills his brother & family tries to get past it Also in here is "The Misfits" by Arthur Miller. I absolutely love that movie (Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Montgomery Clift). I didn't know it had been a short story first. It's pretty cool to compare the two, see how they decided to expand it for the movie. This is a never-ending resource of good stuff.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lon

    Of all the great stories in this anthology, it's hard to beat Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find." I'd forgotten how delightful the writing is. Her ability to vivify these characters with so few strokes of the brush is sheer magic. We meet a mother "whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit's ears." Does it get better than that? Another favorite is John Gardner's Redemption, for its pat Of all the great stories in this anthology, it's hard to beat Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find." I'd forgotten how delightful the writing is. Her ability to vivify these characters with so few strokes of the brush is sheer magic. We meet a mother "whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage and was tied around with a green head-kerchief that had two points on the top like rabbit's ears." Does it get better than that? Another favorite is John Gardner's Redemption, for its pathos and for the language. It's a cliche to say that the stories were uneven in quality, so I won't. I'll just say that about one-third were unforgettable, and I'll return to them time and time again.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    "Masterpieces" sets the bar pretty high, but this anthology has enough variety and quality to merit it, I believe. There's a certain level of macho aesthetic permeating the collection that got a bit wearying after a while (Men Battle the Elements and Confront Death Stoically; Women Face Life with Resignation and/or Nag Men), but that's probably an inescapable result of the time period being sampled from. And some of them are truly luminous--James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" is worth four stars all "Masterpieces" sets the bar pretty high, but this anthology has enough variety and quality to merit it, I believe. There's a certain level of macho aesthetic permeating the collection that got a bit wearying after a while (Men Battle the Elements and Confront Death Stoically; Women Face Life with Resignation and/or Nag Men), but that's probably an inescapable result of the time period being sampled from. And some of them are truly luminous--James Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" is worth four stars all on its own. The tone ranges mostly from ironic to nihilistic, so don't read this anthology if you need an emotional pick-me-up.

  16. 4 out of 5

    robert

    masterpieces: baldwin's sonny's blues, conroy's midair, roth's the conversion of the jews, elkin's a poetics for bullies, brautigan's 1/3 1/3 1/3 good: andre dubus' the fat girl, oates' where are you going, where have you been worthwhile: ann beattie's weekend, richard ford's rock springs, john gardner's redemption, barry hannah's water liars, james salter's akhnilo mediocre: grace paley's the used boy raisers, tobias woolf's the liar bad: jayne ann phillips' the heavenly animal masterpieces: baldwin's sonny's blues, conroy's midair, roth's the conversion of the jews, elkin's a poetics for bullies, brautigan's 1/3 1/3 1/3 good: andre dubus' the fat girl, oates' where are you going, where have you been worthwhile: ann beattie's weekend, richard ford's rock springs, john gardner's redemption, barry hannah's water liars, james salter's akhnilo mediocre: grace paley's the used boy raisers, tobias woolf's the liar bad: jayne ann phillips' the heavenly animal

  17. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    This is a great collection of stories if you are teaching a college or advanced high school English class, or I suppose if you just like well-crafted stories. But the majority are within the "MFA tradition", with exquisite langauge and description and literary devices that bear more weight than the actual story. Don't get me wrong, there aren't any postmodern or experimental head-scratchers, but still, a simple mystery wouldn't have killed anyone. Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin, and The Lover of This is a great collection of stories if you are teaching a college or advanced high school English class, or I suppose if you just like well-crafted stories. But the majority are within the "MFA tradition", with exquisite langauge and description and literary devices that bear more weight than the actual story. Don't get me wrong, there aren't any postmodern or experimental head-scratchers, but still, a simple mystery wouldn't have killed anyone. Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin, and The Lover of Horses, by Tess Gallagher, are my faves.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Monte Dutton

    The short stories included are breathtakingly beautiful. Some made me laugh. None made me cry, but a few made me sad. Only a few had I read before. Not that it's breaking news, but "A Good Man Is Hard to Find " is among the best pieces of writing I've digested. It's hard to excel so completely in tragedy and comedy within the confines of one story, however brilliant it may be. "Tragicomic" exists on account of Flannery O'Connor. The short stories included are breathtakingly beautiful. Some made me laugh. None made me cry, but a few made me sad. Only a few had I read before. Not that it's breaking news, but "A Good Man Is Hard to Find " is among the best pieces of writing I've digested. It's hard to excel so completely in tragedy and comedy within the confines of one story, however brilliant it may be. "Tragicomic" exists on account of Flannery O'Connor.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gerald Hickman

    Raymond Carver grew up in South Central Washington State. His first short stories concerned the local folks from and around his town near Yakima, WA. One of his critically acclaimed stories is printed in this edition. He is also a poet and several small towns along the Yakima River are very proud of the fact that Raymond is a product of the area. I recommend that you check out some of his work it has an interesting small town flavor that you will enjoy.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    These short stories are great to pass the time. You'll start to learn to appreciate different types of stories, too. My ratings from what I've read: (Note: * is what I read in Newark Academy) *A Good Man Is Hard to Find- 5/5 *A Poetics For Bullies- 3/5 Fat Girl- 2/5 Fever- 2/5 The Story of a Scar- 4/5 *Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been- 5/5 These short stories are great to pass the time. You'll start to learn to appreciate different types of stories, too. My ratings from what I've read: (Note: * is what I read in Newark Academy) *A Good Man Is Hard to Find- 5/5 *A Poetics For Bullies- 3/5 Fat Girl- 2/5 Fever- 2/5 The Story of a Scar- 4/5 *Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been- 5/5

  21. 5 out of 5

    Lyuba

    This review and rating is only for the four short stories I read from the collection: "Walking Out" by David Quommen "The Fat Girl" by Andre Dubus "Where are you going, Where have you been?" by Joyce Carol Oates and "A good man is hard to find" by Flannery O'Connor. All four are outstanding - dark and intense, with characters so fully developed in just a few pages. True masterpieces. This review and rating is only for the four short stories I read from the collection: "Walking Out" by David Quommen "The Fat Girl" by Andre Dubus "Where are you going, Where have you been?" by Joyce Carol Oates and "A good man is hard to find" by Flannery O'Connor. All four are outstanding - dark and intense, with characters so fully developed in just a few pages. True masterpieces.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Katie

    - The Amish Farmer by Vance Bourjaily - The Fat Girl by Andre Dubus - Rock Springs by Richard Ford - Redemption by John Gardner - The Ledge by Lawrence Sargent Hall - Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates - A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor - Akhnilo by James Salter - The Amish Farmer by Vance Bourjaily - The Fat Girl by Andre Dubus - Rock Springs by Richard Ford - Redemption by John Gardner - The Ledge by Lawrence Sargent Hall - Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been by Joyce Carol Oates - A Good Man Is Hard To Find by Flannery O'Connor - Akhnilo by James Salter

  23. 4 out of 5

    Troy Soos

    An excellent collection of modern American short stories, with fresh perspectives and insightful writing. My favorites: Stanley Elkin's "A Poetics for Bullies," Andre Dubus's "The Fat Girl," and John Updike's "The Christian Roommates." An excellent collection of modern American short stories, with fresh perspectives and insightful writing. My favorites: Stanley Elkin's "A Poetics for Bullies," Andre Dubus's "The Fat Girl," and John Updike's "The Christian Roommates."

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mackenzie Mackling

    Overall, a solid collection of stories. I read a bit over one third of them for my college English class. My favorites were Walking Out, The Story of a Scar, and Dream Children. I wasn't fond of Rock Springs or The Bystander. Overall, a solid collection of stories. I read a bit over one third of them for my college English class. My favorites were Walking Out, The Story of a Scar, and Dream Children. I wasn't fond of Rock Springs or The Bystander.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Aragorn

    While many of these stories were clearly standouts in their time, many of them have also aged rather poorly. Some of the current standouts include: 1/3 1/3 1/3 A Good Man is Hard to Find Walking Out

  26. 5 out of 5

    Laurie

    A book of short stories was on my reading challenge this year and this is the one I selected. I would randomly select a story when I was in-between other books I was reading. Several were good stories...others were rather dark and depressing. I must admit that I did not read all of the stories.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Michael Carrier

    The collection of mostly post WW 2 stories are not very good. Most left me say so what or why write about that. I have come to enjoy the good short story so this was not a very pleasant read. I had hopped to find some new authors to read.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    For many baby boomer short story writers, this book is the tree from which all fruit comes. So many of my favorite short stories are contained here: "Walking Out" by David Quammen, "The Ledge" by Lawrence Sargent Hall--it's a damn near perfect and timeless collection. For many baby boomer short story writers, this book is the tree from which all fruit comes. So many of my favorite short stories are contained here: "Walking Out" by David Quammen, "The Ledge" by Lawrence Sargent Hall--it's a damn near perfect and timeless collection.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I went crazy for a handful of the stories.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ann M

    Good editors, nice selection of stories, including some authors who are out of fashion, like Vance Bourjaily. Authors are mostly WWII generation with some older Boomers.

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