Baltimore-based novelist Anne Tyler, who grew up in Raleigh, N.C., chose these fiction pieces from a decade's worth collected in the New Stories from the South annual anthology. The 20 tales here epitomize the qualities readers treasure in the best southern literature: a rich appreciation of language and humor, as well as a dead-on sense of place and character.
Mary Hood's "After Moore" offers an indomitable Rhonda and her fractious marriage to Moore, a low-rent Ted Turner wannabe. As a mother she prepares for tornadoes by writing the names of her children on their legs with Magic Markers. As a wife she takes up stock-car racing after learning she's No. 78 on her husband's three-figure list of conquests. Her car number? You guessed it.
James Lee Burke's "Water People" is awash with images of the hard life on a drilling barge moored in a flat Louisiana bay "like a big rectangle of gray iron welded onto a cookie sheet." Barry Hannah takes us to a hunting lodge in Arkansas, where a desperate father playing chess wins his way out of debt when his personality is mysteriously transformed into that of a wily and sophisticated 18th-century woman. If the chilly alienation of much modern fiction gives you a migraine, take two stories from Best of the South and call a friend to tout them to in the morning. (Algonquin, $15.95)