George Garrett's most recent book is "Bad Man Blues."

Here are a few representative examples of excellence, chosen more or less whimsically from among many that are equally worthy. Because the short story is often the form by which new writers announce themselves and showcase new voices and visions, we expect quality collections from newcomers. Three standouts from 1999: For the Relief of Unbearable Urges, by Nathan Englander (Knopf); The Girl's Guide to Hunting and Fishing, by Melissa Bank (Viking); and How Animals Mate, by Daniel Mueller (Overlook), a former student of mine. Englander's nine ambitious, energetic, highly imaginative stories, set in past and present, in Jerusalem, the Soviet Union, New York and elsewhere, earned genuinely appreciative attention from critics and from other writers, as also did the very different Girls' Guide, straightforward, but hip and witty, about the life and times of young Jane Rosenal in New York City and thereabouts. The eight stories by Mueller, an anthology of diverse forms, are linked by their compassionate concern for outcasts. The language is charged and eloquent; the territory, domestic and foreign, is dangerous.

Kit Reed is a veteran with 18 novels to her credit and six collections of stories prior to her most recent one, Seven for the Apocalypse (Wesleyan), a novella and seven stories, aptly described as metaphysical science fiction. In an introduction she gives us the factual sources of these fictions but likewise stresses the essential mystery of her craft: "I may be able to order the march of words across a screen -- how I say what I have to say -- but at some more profound level, I at least am in the power of the unseen, unpredictable and not necessarily tractable forces that drive me."

Prize-winning novelist Annie Proulx brought out her second collection, Close Range: Wyoming Stories (Scribner), 11 stories set in the landscape, inner and outer, of the American West. As Carolyn See wrote in this paper (July 2), "I can't praise it enough." (See Book Club, p. 16.) The same goes for the fifth collection by my friend (friendship does not deny critical appreciation) Richard Bausch, whose Someone to Watch Over Me (HarperCollins) offers a dozen skillful stories in a variety of voices that summon up the complexity and power of the ordinary lives of ordinary people.

These six, then, and many more, truth be told, make this year a celebration for short fiction. We move into the next century with good company and every reason for confidence that the American short story will continue to offer its special kinds of pleasure.