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The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories

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4.11  ·  Rating details ·  1,205 ratings  ·  74 reviews
The thirty-three stories in this volume prove that American short fiction maybe be our most distinctive national art form. As selected and introduced by Tobias Wolff, they also make up an alternate map of the United States that represents not just geography but narrative traditions, cultural heritage, and divergent approaches.
Paperback, 576 pages
Published September 6th 1994 by Vintage (first published September 1st 1994)
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4.11  · 
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 ·  1,205 ratings  ·  74 reviews


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Ben Loory
Oct 24, 2007 rated it it was amazing
it's funny to be reading a book of stories and turn the page and come upon "cathedral." always seems like something that came from on high and has been around since the dawn of man or something. hard to believe carver was ever anyone's contemporary. but i guess that's the story!

anyway! lots of good stories in this book-- mostly the usual suspects: "where are you going, where have you been?" and "the fat girl" and "a romantic weekend" and "a white horse" (which is still SO FUCKING GREAT) and "the
...more
Nate
May 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
It's a shame that short stories are a somewhat forgotten genre these days, because when they are good (as these ones are), they can contain the joy, profundity and impact of much longer works, without the necessity of hours of time commitment. There are too many first-rate stories in here to make individual remarks practical, but I would offer a general salute to Tobias Wolff, the editor, for making almost uniformly first-rate selections.

I've had to pace myself going through the book because al
...more
Andrew Wright
Mar 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: owned
I think my favorite story in the series was Chopin in Winter, for sure. In general the stories were good, but I found some unbearably painful to read. There are a couple of topics that I find very unsettling to have to delve into, particularly Vietnam veterans and people falling off the wagon. The wagon thing is by far the most uncomfortable and this book was rife with those stories for some reason. Why are contemporary authors so fascinated with what booze does to good people, or why good peopl ...more
Sarah
Mar 29, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-stories
The stories in this collection are inspiring. Wolff collected works from the best writers of our time. Stories like Joyce Carol Oates' "Where are you going? Where have you been?" and Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried," while more wildly read and better know, fit in superbly with Andre Dubus' "Fat Girl," Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl" and Edward P. Jones' "The First Day." I was particularly happy to read Susan Power's "Moonwalk," a story about a dying native american woman's last gift to her grand ...more
ginny
Nov 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to ginny by: New Yorker Fiction podcast (?)
After listening to a New Yorker Fiction podcast reading of "Dog Heaven," I picked this up from the library because I was so drawn to this particular story about the military child--most stories about the military center on the service member. The tone is lightly nostalgic and the author teases out funny little anecdotes as she brings us to the bittersweet conclusion of youth and innocence. Everything is just right about this little story. So good.

Other favorites from the collection: Cathedral, T
...more
Surferevan
Nov 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
Very excellent collection of stories that really broadened my literary horizons. I really needed to read this as an aspiring writer. The Mona Simpson piece is awesome, awesome! I could not put the book down reading it, and re-read it several times.

This was also my first reading of Carver, who had his piece "Cathedral" in here. It was interesting, but it didn't really speak to me like some of the others. There's even a cliff notes about that piece...which I read...and it did help me to think abo
...more
Pedro
Nov 18, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I felt that this book of short stories really did its best to gather great writers and (just one of) their best stories. It worked well with my first fiction class in college and I've kept it since. Coming back to them a little older, I've definitely appreciated each story even more. It made me look into authors that I really liked and as a result, eventually I've read more of them.

It's definitely a must-have-book for everyone's library!
Nick
Apr 13, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fiction lovers
This book will make you love short stories. I won't say every page was amazing, and in fact there were two or three stories in here I didn't think were all that great. But the other twenty or so were great. Some were amazing. So seeing as this book is roughly 95% great, I'm giving it 5 stars. This is fiction that sticks to your ribs, not in your teeth.
Tyler
May 27, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2008
Highlights: "All The Way In Flagstaff, Arizona" by Richard Bausch;
"Rock Springs" by Richard Ford;
"Testimony Of Pilot" by Barry Hannah;
"Emergency" by Denis Johnson;
"Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" by Joyce Carol Oates;
"Cody's Story" by Robert Olmstead;
"Helping" by Robert Stone
Kevin
Oct 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A great collection, and I'm a man who knows collections. This has many of the greats that I think are essential in any collection as well as some others I hadn't ever seen before. The first story, which I can't remember the name of, really hit me, as did a magnificent and horrifying piece near the middle called "Wickedness." Scribner anthology is still my favorite, but this is a close second.
Erin Quinney
Sep 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is a solid collection. The standouts (excluding the obvious selections from Amy Tan, Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, and Tim O'Brien) were "The Darling," "The Fat Girl," "The First Day," "River of Names," "Wickedness," and "Chopin In Winter."

There were only a couple that I didn't care for at all but naming them seems unnecessary, so I won't.

James
Oct 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Amazing. I'm not normally a literature consumer, but this one hit the spot. Most of the stories are sad, compelling and rich. Strong character development in each, a punch to the gut in most, an interesting piece of what it is to be human and american captured in all. Loved it. Highly recommended.
Windy
Mar 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own, favorites
This is my favorite anthology of short stories. Mona Simpson's "Lawns" is probably my favorite because it is so disturbing, but I also love several of the teachable stories in here such as Carver's "Cathedral," Oates' "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been," Vaughn's "Dog Heaven," Dubus' "The Fat Girl," and so on.
H
Jun 14, 2010 rated it really liked it
I don't typically read short stories, but was given this book and quickly became hooked on it. I'm very impressed with the depth of emotion that some of these stories accomplish in 10 or 15 pages. My favorites from the book,

- A Vintage Thunderbird (*)
- Tall Tales From the Meekong Delta (*)
- Men Under Water
- The Things They Carried
- Lawns

Really great stuff.
Jenni
Jul 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: anthologies, fiction
The first story, "River of Names," by Dorothy Allison ripped my friggen head off. Brutally good. Another favorite was, "Tall Tales from the Mekong Delta," by Kate Braverman. A few stories are already heavily anthologized (Oates, Tan, Carver) but overall this was a spectacular anthology with only a few misses.
Katie
Favorites: The Darling, The Fat Girl, Chopin in the Winter, A Romantic Weekend, Minor Heroism, Testimony of Pilot, A White Horse, Girl, Departures, Men Under Water, Aunt Granny Lith, Home, Lawns, Helping, Rules of the Game, Daddy Garbage.

Or maybe not favorites. But they made me pause.
Abby
Jul 27, 2011 added it
All very good writing, although it requires a little cognition. Favorites include "Chopin In Winter" by Stuart Dybek, "Talk of Heroes" by Carol Bly, "Aunt Granny Lith" by Chris Offutt, "Moonwalk" by Susan Powers, and "Rules of the Game" by Amy Tan.
Kristi
May 15, 2009 marked it as purgatory
This is the best stash-in-the-car-or-purse book for whenever I unexpectedly need something to read while waiting for whatever. The even better part is reading Julie's notes in the margins.
David Curry
Feb 12, 2019 rated it liked it
It’s hard to believe that the eloquently persuasive introduction to The Vintage Book of Contemporary American Short Stories was written by the same person who selected the for the most part forcedly grim stories in the collection.

I want to applaud when editor Tobias Wolff says this:

“Chekhov says of one of his characters, ‘he had a talent for humanity.’ It is this quality, above all, that puts these writers on common ground — the ability to breathe into their work distinct living presences beyon
...more
Nicholas Armstrong
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Short story collections are always a bit of a gamble. I don't trust any person who reads an entire short story collection and enjoys it all. The stories are too varied, the writers too different. Satire-laced modern narratives suddenly jumping to a narrative driven story in the rural south about racism should feel like a huge and sometimes uncomfortable leap, and it will probably alter and maybe even ruin the experience of trying to approach some of these stories with fresh eyes.

That said, the s
...more
Maria
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
I read this for a Creative Writing class and I must say that several of the stories in have some depth and value that will enrich your life. I enjoyed several of them, but if I narrowed it down to my favorites I would say Chopin in Winter; Cathedral; All the Way in Flagstaff, Az.; Wickedness; Moonwalk; and Helping. Chopin in Winter is magnificent! There were some that I didn't care for, but the one I particularly disliked was "River of Names". It reminded me of a friend I had in Jr. High. She go ...more
Brenda Clark Thomas
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book to study if you want to get better at writing short stories. And, there's some fantastic stories in this one. Very few bored me or made me get that feeling of "so sorry you broke your fingernail--get a life." These were excellent and surprising.
Maria Isabella
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
amazing book. I will definitely be reading it again.
Carlin
Feb 18, 2018 rated it did not like it
The one thing I did learn from reading these stories is that I don't like literature.
Tammy
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Realism is not always my first choice, but I keep going back to this book.
Kerry Booth
Mar 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
Unfortunately, there were too many stories that left me scratching my head as to why Wolff thought these were the best of the best. Overall, capital collection.
Nicholas Sangiacomo
Sep 30, 2016 marked it as to-read
Planning on briefly reviewing each story here, less for anyone else's sake other than my own...:

"River of Names": Bleh. I found this one completely melodramatic and shallow. It read like a summary of the Maury Povich show in the worst way. However, I will say, the ending line is incredible.

"All the Way in Flagstaff, Arizona": Now we're talking! I found this story to be very sad, particularly the moment where Pops thought he was being funny, but the kids were scared. Without giving too much away,
...more
cartercam
Jun 11, 2014 rated it liked it
I was surprised at the number of these I had read before! I sometimes get bogged down by short stories, and this was an attempt to try them again. I always think I am missing something, that I am not understanding the themes or symbols or deeper meanings. That may or may not be true, but the line of thinking leaves me dissatisfied with most short stories. Over the course of this book I made some peace with short stories and was able to enjoy quite a few of them. Only a handful of the stories sti ...more
Leslie
Aug 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I bought this book when I was 14, and I read it from beginning to end a couple of times in a row. Before then I hadn't been to interested in short stories, but afterwards, they were all I would read. This book houses some of my all-time favorite short stories: Cathedral, The Fat Girl, Rock Springs, others whose names I can't remember right now. Also, it introduced me to Tobias Wolff, who I still love. I could still read it cover to cover.
Cat
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
A great read. A cultural snapshot--if indeed one can be taken of the United States. Each story is crisp and memorable. I received this as a gift from friends who know that I have a love for short fiction.

Although I was familiar with several of the stories, I nonetheless stumbled upon many new ones.

Try it out. It might not have the range of a true anthology, but it serves as a nice taste of the American brand of fiction.
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Tobias Jonathan Ansell Wolff is a writer of fiction and nonfiction.

He is best known for his short stories and his memoirs, although he has written two novels.

Wolff is the Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford University, where he has taught classes in English and creative writing since 1997. He also served as the director of the Creative Writ
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