January 15, 1996 12:00 PM

edited by Jane Smiley with Katrina Kenison

Editor Jane (Moo) Smiley chose the 20 stories (from 120 U.S. and Canadian entries) in this anthology without knowing the authors’ identities. Yet, like a literary homing pigeon, she ended up with works from several masters of American fiction—Don DeLillo, Ellen Gilchrist, Jamaica Kin-caid—and from some of the newly acclaimed: Thorn Jones, Gish Jen, Andrew Cozine. The stories share no subject and they fall in no particular order. Instead, Smiley says, she hopes that the whole will be artful in the way of a Chinese meal, “designed so that the flavors enhance one another as the feast progresses.”

But readers have different tastes—and so there will likely be some disagreement about which of these exemplary stories are best. DeLillo’s “The Angel Esmeralda,” a tale about do-good nuns in the South Bronx, is full of flavor as is Joy Williams’s remarkable account of a young girl confronting her mother’s death in “Honored Guest.” Then there is “First, Body” by Melanie Rae Thon, a precise and vivid tale set in a hospital emergency room. Gish Jen’s “Birthmates,” about a displaced conventioneer, displays a gentle wit. Such an array of contemporary American fiction should please every literary palate. (Houghton Mifflin, $24.95)

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