George Saunders "Sea Oak"
If you're offended by bad language and coarse behavior, this is not the story for you; however, the story is one of the funniest satires of contemporary America I've read. The main character works at a restaurant called "Cockpit" that appears to be a male version of Hooters to support his deadbeat welfare mom sisters and his minimum wage earning and unfailingly optimistic aunt. When his aunt dies early in the story, things appear to turn for the worse...until she comes back and the characters are forced to re-evaluate what exactly could be worse than their unflinchingly American lives.
Louise Erdrich "Sister
There is simply no finer writer in America today than Louise Erdrich. As always, she creates a vivid world in a small space. Here, one girl confronts her own insecurities after being caught making fun of the nun who teaches her. As she struggles to please the teacher she feels she may have hurt, she reveals a deep sympathy towards the nun that suggests her fears of having hurt are, at their core, fears of being hurt. The characters are fiercely strong and so clearly drawn that Erdrich doesn't seem to be creating a world but reporting one.
Robert Olen Butler "Jealous Husband Returns in the Form of a Parrot"
This story, like the other stories collected in Tabloid Dreams, takes its title from tabloids, but tabloid writing ends there. Butler imagines a full back story into the protagonist, a parrot, who has been purchased by the wife he had in his last life and now must watch her move on. Butler manages a nice balance between humor and sympathy as we watch the man/parrot struggle with issues of power and control when both his physical power and his spoken language are all but taken from him.