One of the things I've always liked about the BASS series is that the final selection of stories is picked by a different judge every year, so you get some variety based on that judge's own personal preferences, and you get some insight into what these writers like to read themselves. As Jennifer Egan is a writer I admire greatly, I looked forward to seeing what she likes to read.
So it pleases me to say that for the most part, Ms. Egan and I have similar tastes. Devastating stories like Peter Cameron's After the Flood and Nicole Cullen's Long Tom Lookout, the slow burn of David Gates' A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me, Lauren Groff's luminous At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners, and Molly McNett's La Pulchra Nota, all knocked me over. Karen Russell, a writer who has frustrated me many times with pieces she's written that start strong and then fizzle, finally carries her potential forward all the way through Madame Bovary's Greyhound, a story told from the point of view of--well--Madame Bovary's greyhound, a story that should be outlandish and ridiculous and instead is a moving, bittersweet story of the impact first love (really, all love) makes in your life.
There were a few mehs. Am I the only reader in America who doesn't get Ann Beattie? Nell Freudenberger's Hover tries to use a supernatural event as a metaphor, but it's labored. Brendan Mathews' This Is Not a Love Song would have benefited from a more traditional narrative structure.
But overall, the majority of these stories really drew me in and made for a happy reading experience, even when they weren't happy reads (and most of them aren't).
My two biggest quibbles: In all the years I've been following this series, the stories are always presented in the order of the authors' names, alphabetically. That seems practical. There was one guest judge, I forget which one, who bucked tradition and arranged the stories as s/he saw fit instead. This is a collection that would have benefited from a little more curation like that. At times, stories that were too alike were back-to-back, and it would have been nice to have them separated.
Second: for years the series has been published with colorful covers, using a textured matte finish that's attractive and pleasant to the touch. This year, it's still colorful, but the publisher has gone with a glossy untextured finish. It feels cheaper (probably was) and isn't as appealing to the eye as the old textured matte versions.
My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy.