The Best American Short Stories 2004 Edited by Lorrie Moore Houghton Mifflin $140 This year's crop of short stories favours solid stories that rely on careful character development and seamless writing rather than on inventiveness or stylistic flash. Family relations are a recurring theme. In John Edgar Wideman's What We Cannot Speak About We Must Pass Over in Silence, a man is enmeshed in the life of his deceased friend's jailed son. Others probe issues of ambition, gender, romance and war. Most are firmly rooted in the US, but a few roam overseas. In The Tutor, set in India, Nell Freudenberger explores the dynamics of an expatriate father and daughter relationship; and Mirror Studies by Mary Yukari Waters takes place in Japan. The selection includes Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, John Updike and Edward P. Jones. Eight of the 20 entries were originally published in the New Yorker magazine.