From Publishers Weekly
When he assembled the first of these annual prize anthologies in 1988, the late Raymond Carver awarded first prize to Antonya Nelson. Now Nelson (Nobody's Girl) and her husband, Robert Boswell (Crooked Hearts), have collaborated in choosing this mixed collection of 19 new stories. Realistic description is the cornerstone of most of these tales, which mainly concern domestic and adolescent epiphanies. In first prize-winner Karen Halvorsen Schreck's "Model Home," a teenage boy builds an exquisite miniature house for his sister, as if to compensate for the abuse she suffers from her father and boyfriend. Its pathos contrasts with Sarah McElwain's buoyantly comic second prize story, "Born Lucky," in which phone-sex worker Evening K. Titlebaum's unborn daughter explains how Evening plans to get rich by giving birth to her at midnight on December 31, 1999. In Cathy Day's moving third prize story, "Boss Man," an Indiana campground manager discovers his hidden affinities with the gypsies who plague his site. Among other contributions, Tom Paine's entry, "The Mayor of Saint John," focuses on a shy West Indian substitute teacher, suddenly appointed mayor of the island, whose idealistic dreams are crushed by the cultural invasion of foreigners. Several coming-of-age tales exhibit promise: Stephen Bauer's "All the Night Could Hold" explores a boy's fascination with his alcoholic stepfather, while Patricia Ann McNair's affecting "The Temple of Air" follows the adventures of a cult member's chronically ignored adolescent daughter. Although the volume provides pleasant reading, however one looks in vain for stories that presage talent equal to that of the two judges in their early work. (June)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
Nineteen previously unpublished stories by unknown writers, edited by Davis (Rumors from the Lost World, 1993) and White (A Brothers Blood, 1996). Emerging is an optimistic description of the young authors collected here, most of whom have never appeared between the covers of a book before now. For the most part, all of the standard criticisms of workshop proseits general formlessness, pretense, lack of psychological insight, basic immaturityare very much in evidence on just about every page. The great majority of the pieces, in fact, are not really stories at all, but rather portraits and recollections that proceed by description rather than plot. Thus, the First Prize work (Model Home) shows us daily life of an unhappy familysingle mother, proto-homosexual son, promiscuous and bulimic daughterwithout any background behind their rather pointless misery. The Second Prize piece (Born Lucky) succeeds in comic termsit describes the elaborate efforts undertaken by a young couple to conceive a child who will be born on January 1, 2000but lacks any real edge to its humor and consequently falls flat. The Third Prize is split between an account of a high-school history teachers downfall (The World Dirty, Like a Heart) and that of a trailer-park managers encounter with Gypsies (Cathy Day). There are the usual childhood reminiscences (All the Night Could Hold, recalling a drunken, sexually perverted stepfather), weird job stories (And the Shin Bones Connected to the Knee Bone, narrated by a meter maid), and even apartment tales (Nouinas House, an elegy to a kindly Lebanese landlady). But what seems to be missing is any sense among the narrators that they see the point of their stories any better than the reader does. Altogether, sad stuff: lifeless prose that drones on like an overbearing dinner guest. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.