November 15, 1993 12:00 PM

Edited by Louise Erdrich

The best short stories contain novels,” writes Erdrich in her incisive introduction to this anthology. Then she proceeds to make her point with the 20 diverse selections that follow. From Stephen Dixon’s “Man, Woman and Boy,” an involuted, Pinteresque tale of a marriage that shuffles time and perceptions like a deck of cards, to Andrea Lee’s palpably sensuous “Winter Barley,” these are stories with unusual staying power.

Despite the “blind” selection process (manuscripts were submitted to Erdrich without the authors’ bylines), several of her picks come from such familiar names as John Updike, whose “Playing with Dynamite,” an elegiac reflection on aging, opens the collection. But there are equally fine contributions from new waiters including Susan Power, represented by the sad fable “Red Moccasins,” and Tony Earley. His “Charlotte,” about the world of professional wrestling, juggles slapstick, philosophy and even a whiff of poetry in one brilliantly choreographed tour de force.

This collection is especially satisfying because Erdrich has thoughtfully arranged her courses. Added spice comes from the intriguing contributors’ notes—some practically short stories in themselves—and Erdrich’s vivid introductions. After savoring this collection, you may feel much the way Erdrich did following Wendell Berry’s Kentucky saga “Pray Without Ceasing”: “Beautifully knit, pitch-perfect in design,” she writes, “this story is a meal after which you don’t want coffee or brandy or even a cigar, but simply to walk outside and gaze up into dark space.” (Houghton Mifflin, $22.95)

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