I was really blown away by Nathaniel Rich’s “The Northeast Kingdom” which appears in McSweeney’s #38. It’s an amazing story about family and community and the pitfalls of being special. Sharply written characters and whippet-fast pacing make for a really compelling read. Great stuff.
‘Best’ depends on what you’re after. I’ve read a few “best” stories in the past few years. As far as getting my head fucked, of reminding myself what the word awe-someness means, Greg Egan’s Crystal Nights still resonates after four years.
really loved steve almond’s “donkey greedy, donkey get punched” in a tin house a few yrs back. something about wallace’s “incarnation with burned children” sticks with me in some small unsettled part of my animal heart, & i think i read Oblivion 1.5 yrs ago.
Also, I recently read a pre-“Then We Came to the End” Joshua Ferris story called “Mrs. Blue.” I loved it so much I made a photocopy of it at the library. I keep it in my folder of essential stories. You can find it The Iowa Review. Vol. 29, No. 2 (Fall, 1999), pp. 34-46, according to JSTOR, which offers a preview of the story.
Can’t find a proper link, but Aimee Bender’s “The Color Master” chewed me up and spit me out a few times. Found it first in The Cincinnati Review, then again in My Mother She Killed Me My, Father He Ate Me.