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The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction
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The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction

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by Joyce Carol Oates, Christopher R. Beha (Editor)

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A definitive collection of the very best short stories by contemporary American masters

Edited by Joyce Carol Oates, "the living master of the short story" (Buffalo News), and Christopher R. Beha, this volume provides an important overview of the contemporary short story and a selection of the very best that American short


A definitive collection of the very best short stories by contemporary American masters

Edited by Joyce Carol Oates, "the living master of the short story" (Buffalo News), and Christopher R. Beha, this volume provides an important overview of the contemporary short story and a selection of the very best that American short fiction has to offer.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
A usual-suspects gathering of living American short-story writers, with a few nods to the up-and-coming generation. A short story is to a novel as an hour is to a year: a vignette, a slice of life, a situation. When the late Raymond Carver wrote one, it ended inconclusively and unhappily; if David Foster Wallace writes one, it has footnotes; if any one of a thousand young Brooklyn residents or MFA grads writes one, it is usually "edgy," with lots of product placement. Happily, Oates (My Sister, My Love, 2008, etc.) and debut acolyte Beha open with one of the most classically minded of contemporary short fictionists, namely the Spokane Indian writer Sherman Alexie, who, like the Kiowa writer N. Scott Momaday (alive, but not included), can jab neatly at white audiences while beating most of their authors at their own game; in this instance, Alexie's oft-anthologized "The Toughest Indian in the World" does the sparring. Junot D'az and Edwidge Danticat represent the two halves of Hispaniola, with D'az similarly turning multiculturalism on its head by making mock-heroes of tenement losers ("Tonight me and Aurora sit in front of the TV and split a case of Budweiser. This is going to hurt, she says, holding her can up.") Stuart Dybek delivers a neat turn on baseball ("Most guys are washed up by seventeen"); Annie Proulx does the customary duty of conjuring a downer on the High Plains; and Jhumpa Lahiri turns in a curiously flat piece of suburban angst. But the rest of the collection contains nary a surprise, with the well known (Ford, McGuane, Gaitskill, Chabon) doing what they do so well-and have done in many other collections, which this one does nothing to supplant or best. Usable as anintroduction to a canon in the making, but inconsequential, even for an anthology.

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HarperCollins Publishers
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6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.60(d)

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The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction

Chapter One

TheToughest Indian in the World

Sherman Alexie

A Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian, Sherman Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Welipinit, Washington, about fifty miles northwest of Spokane, Washington. He is the author of four novels and several volumes of poetry, as well as the story collections The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, The Toughest Indian in the World, and Ten Little Indians. Alexie's young adult novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, received the 2007 National Book Award in Young People's Literature. He lives in Seattle, Washington, with his wife and two sons.

Being a Spokane Indian, I only pick up Indian hitchhikers. I learned this particular ceremony from my father, a Coeur d'Alene, who always stopped for those twentieth-century aboriginal nomads who refused to believe the salmon were gone. I don't know what they believed in exactly, but they wore hope like a bright shirt.

My father never taught me about hope. Instead, he continually told me that our salmon—our hope—would never come back, and though such lessons may seem cruel, I know enough to cover my heart in any crowd of white people.

"They'll kill you if they get the chance," my father said. "Love you or hate you, white people will shoot you in the heart. Even after all these years, they'll still smell the salmon on you, the dead salmon, and that will make white people dangerous."

All of us, Indian and white, are haunted by salmon.

When I was aboy, I leaned over the edge of one dam or another—perhaps Long Lake or Little Falls or the great gray dragon known as the Grand Coulee—and watched the ghosts of the salmon rise from the water to the sky and become constellations.

For most Indians, stars are nothing more than white tombstones scattered across a dark graveyard.

But the Indian hitchhikers my father picked up refused to admit the existence of sky, let alone the possibility that salmon might be stars. They were common people who believed only in the thumb and the toot. My father envied those simple Indian hitchhikers. He wanted to change their minds about salmon; he wanted to break open their hearts and see the future in their blood. He loved them.

In 1975 or '76 or '77, driving along one highway or another, my father would point out a hitchhiker standing beside the road a mile or two in the distance.

"Indian," he said if it was an Indian, and he was never wrong, though I could never tell if the distant figure was male or female, let alone Indian or not.

If a distant figure happened to be white, my father would drive by without comment.

That was how I learned to be silent in the presence of white people.

The silence is not about hate or pain or fear. Indians just like to believe that white people will vanish, perhaps explode into smoke, if they are ignored enough times. Perhaps a thousand white families are still waiting for their sons and daughters to return home, and can't recognize them when they float back as morning fog.

"We better stop," my mother said from the passenger seat. She was one of those Spokane women who always wore a purple bandanna tied tightly around her head.

These days, her bandanna is usually red. There are reasons, motives, traditions behind the choice of color, but my mother keeps them secret.

"Make room," my father said to my siblings and me as we sat on the floor in the cavernous passenger area of our blue van. We sat on carpet samples because my father had torn out the seats in a sober rage not long after he bought the van from a crazy white man.

I have three brothers and three sisters now. Back then, I had four of each. I missed one of the funerals and cried myself sick during the other one.

"Make room," my father said again—he said everything twice—and only then did we scramble to make space for the Indian hitchhiker.

Of course, it was easy enough to make room for one hitchhiker, but Indians usually travel in packs. Once or twice, we picked up entire all-Indian basketball teams, along with their coaches, girlfriends, and cousins. Fifteen, twenty Indian strangers squeezed into the back of a blue van with nine wide-eyed Indian kids.

Back in those days, I loved the smell of Indians, and of Indian hitchhikers in particular. They were usually in some stage of drunkenness, often in need of soap and a towel, and always ready to sing.

Oh, the songs! Indian blues bellowed at the highest volumes. We called them '9s," those cross-cultural songs that combined Indian lyrics and rhythms with country-and-western and blues melodies. It seemed that every Indian knew all the lyrics to every Hank Williams song ever recorded. Hank was our Jesus, Patsy Cline was our Virgin Mary, and Freddy Fender, George Jones, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Charley Pride, Ronnie Milsap, Tanya Tucker, Marty Robbins, Johnny Horton, Donna Fargo, and Charlie Rich were our disciples.

We all know that nostalgia is dangerous, but I remember those days with a clear conscience. Of course, we live in different days now, and there aren't as many Indian hitchhikers as there used to be.

Now, I drive my own car, a 1998 Toyota Camry, the best-selling automobile in the United States, and therefore the one most often stolen. Consumer Reports has named it the most reliable family sedan for sixteen years running, and I believe it.

In my Camry, I pick up three or four Indian hitchhikers a week. Mostly men. They're usually headed home, back to their reservations or somewhere close to their reservations. Indians hardly ever travel in a straight line, so a Crow Indian might hitchhike west when his reservation is back east in Montana. He has some people to see in Seattle, he might explain if I ever asked him. But I never ask Indians their reasons for hitchhiking. All that matters is this: They are Indians walking, raising their thumbs, and I am there to pick them up.

The Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction. Copyright © by Joyce Oates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Christopher R. Beha has written for the New York Times Book Review, Bookforum, and The Believer. The Whole Five Feet, his memoir of a year spent reading the Harvard Classics, will be published in 2009.

Brief Biography

Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
June 16, 1938
Place of Birth:
Lockport, New York
B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

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Ecco Anthology of Contemporary American Short Fiction 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is filled with so many stories, some of which make you not want to put the book down. The Paperhanger is by far my favorite story
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
NewYorkerReader More than 1 year ago
This anthology contains many excellent stories and more of my favorite authors than I would expect to see in one volume. Edward P Jones, Jhumpa Lahiri, Steven Millhauser, T.C Boyle, E.L. Doctorow, well, I don't have to list the table of contents. The short story format, which is one of my favorites, seems designed for today's life style, and these stories often deal with modern matters. Most are quite intense and remain with you after you have closed the book. This comes just in time for the holidays.