Nice Big American Baby

By Judy Budnitz. Alfred A. Knopf. $23


The buzz is right: The short story is making a comeback. For proof, look no further than the spare, pol- ished gems in Judy Budnitz’s Nice Big American Baby.

Budnitz writes fantastic and grotesque stories that nonetheless feel deeply familiar. In “Nadia,” a man brings home a mail-order wife from a war-torn eastern European country. Her inscrutability evokes jealousy from his thirtysomething female friends, and the tale’s final twist would not be out of place in an especially warped and revealing episode of Sex and the City.

In the dreamlike “Where We Come From,” a pregnant woman is so desperate to give birth on American soil that she holds her child inside her womb as she spends years trying to sneak across the border. There are moments when a story’s internal rules seem too flexible, but such slips are redeemed by Budnitz’s overall precision, depth, and humor.

In “Preparedness,” a story about sex, death, and emergency shelters, Budnitz captures a small but essential truth of the past four years. When a presidential adviser forgets himself and blurts out “hold your horses” to his boss: “There was a general gasp. The President glared. Only the President was allowed to season his speech with the odd folksy idiom.”