A short-story writer fields many questions about the genre, among them the persistent and accusatory: But why didn't you finish it? Or the related: Why didn't you write a whole book about this? Depending upon audience and context I've given any number of answers. Because the job of a short story is to leave you in suspended animation, and let you linger there until you think you know what it means. Because there's something to the experience of being dropped into something and then forced to surface. Because the right one-night stand can be as interesting as a marriage. Because the world can change forever in a few centuries or in a few seconds, and we need measures of both. Because closure is overrated and fiction's job is to open us up.

Next time I field that particular question, I may skip any attempt at answer and send the questioner to the stories I've selected for this year's Top 50. They are stories that make their compression a virtue, that dictate their terms to the reader before pulling in for a kiss, or a bite. The stories are playful but pointed, as in "The Swan as Metaphor for Love," or they are succinct and devastating, as in "Bereavement." They embody the project of short fiction, which is to enter an exit quickly, and leave a permanent mark. In this way, the pleasure of the stories lasts much longer than the act of reading them. The longstanding anxieties of fiction are well-represented here: death, sex, loneliness, disaster of both the everyday and apocalyptic variety. Also, perhaps, some of my own selection biases: presidents fared well this year, and how could I not love a story about mutant kittens?

Ultimately though, I was looking for the stories that pulled me all the way—sometimes with a fully realized narrative in a small space, sometimes with vivid sensory detail or strange and wonderful imagery, sometimes with language so inventive or a statement so precisely true that I had to stop and read aloud. After narrowing down the pool of stories I'd received, I made my final round of selections in the wee hours of the morning, at an all-night coffee shop, which added a certain clarity to the selection process. The stories that I remembered from the first sentence—the stories that made everything else stop for a moment— were the stories that made me say yes. I hope that they do the same for you.

-Danielle Evans

Danielle Evans is the author of the short-story collection BEFORE YOU SUFFOCATE YOUR OWN FOOL SELF, which was a co-winner of the 2011 PEN American Robert W. Bingham Prize for a first book, a National Book Foundation 5 under 35 selection, the winner of the 2011 Paterson Prize for Fiction and the 2011 Hurston-Wright Award for fiction, and an an honorable mention for the 2011 PEN/Hemingway award. Her work has appeared in magazines including The Paris Review, A Public Space, Callaloo, and Phoebe, has been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories 2008 and 2010, and in New Stories from the South. She teaches literature and creative writing at American University in Washington DC.

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