The main purpose of reading this short stories anthology The Best American Short Stories 2004 (Houghton Mifflin, 2004; 462) edited by Lorrie Moore was to complete the 100 Shots of Shorts. 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.
Nevertheless stories like What You Pawn I Will Redeem, Tooth and Claw, Breasts, Gallatin Canyon, What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick, and Runaway stood out for me. Not that they were the best in the collection but they were the ones I could still remember strands and threads of. Reading Sherman Alexie's What You Pawn I Will Redeem and Nell Freudenberger's The Tutor just after reading Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss helped a lot. Alexie's story looked at the American Indian and not the India in America, like Biju. Yet, the similarities in their lives, the inherent attachment to tradition and to family was pronounced. And so too is their 'care-free' livelihood. Similarly, the relationship between Zubin and Julia, in Freudenberger's The Tutor, also reminded me of the relationship between Sai and Gyan in Desai's story.
Runaway by Alice Munro is about a woman who wants to both leave her husband and also stay with him. She gets help from a woman who has just been widowed, and who has 'more-than-friendship' love for her. But she could not complete the journey. Her dependency on her husband was clear; but what was also clear was a woman who act on whims and who isn't stable.
Overall, the collection has some memorable stories like the man who won a giant cat in a pub (in Tooth and Claw by T. Coraghessan Boyle); the man who lived on a generational ranch fighting both modernity (which came through oil-drilling, real estate development, fraud) and marriage to keep his inheritance from falling prey to the predatory investors (in What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick by Annie Proulx) and the hired killer who kept seeing vistas of beautiful women in his dreamy state (in Breasts).
Apart from the difficult with some of the stories, the anthology itself was worth the reading time.