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on March 29, 2009
In the 2008 edition of "The O. Henry Prize Stories", Editor Laura Furman has broadened her selections to include a wider stylistic variety of stories than prior years. She still exhibits a tendency to select stories concerning darker, depressive or morbid subject matter. Yet in this year's volume the stories take such different forms and showcase such different writing styles that the only underlying characteristic that almost all of them share is they truly are excellent examples of the modern day short story.

Why care to read a collection of short stories? Guest juror David Means provides one of the most lucid explanations I've ever seen in his short essay included in this volume, which is as worth reading as any of the stories. "A great short story peels back and exposes some singular mystery about the human condition...", and "a great story, even a good one, thickens our sense of the perplexing essence of being human." I feel the same, which is why I read the O. Henry and Best American short story anthologies every year (plus they are great ways to be exposed to the work of many fine authors).

My favorite stories in this volume include:

-- Sheila Kohler's "The Transitional Object", which I felt was the overall best story in the volume, because my favorite type of short story is still the classic O. Henry model: a short, tightly worded story with compelling characters, an interesting plot, and a twist at the very end, the sum of which communicates a moral about the human condition. Kohler's story is a very modern version of a classic form originally honed to perfection by the author who inspired this entire series.

-- Shannon Cain's "The Necessity of Certain Behaviors", which poses an intriguing question (a young woman who leaves behind modern society to join a tribe of isolated aboriginal people) and provides some interesting answers that speak to modern day angst.

-- David Malouf's "Every Move You Make", which provides some good lessons about obsessive love and the dangers of myth making.

-- Michel Faber's "Bye-bye Natalie", a well-informed portrayal of a modern-day, technology-enabled clash between first world and second or third world societies.

The one story I disliked considerably was Alice Munro's "What Do You Want to Know For?". Ms. Munro seems to get an automatic bye into each annual volume of the O. Henry and Best American anthologies. It is time to stop this practice, and to start judging her stories on their own merits, although a blind test would fail because her stories are all instantly recognizable as hers: they all take place in Ontario and are concerned with the travails of upper middle class, late middle age women. Not being a late middle aged woman from Ontario, I don't identify with her writing at all, nor do I think it speaks to greater truths about the human condition. Surprisingly, one of the three jurors selected Munro's story as the best, although (amazingly) this juror also was not a late middle aged woman from Ontario, and (even more amazingly) he admitted that the story, "as is the case with most of Munro's work", had "apparent modesty" and "even artlessness". I'm sorry, but all I saw was the apparent modesty and even artlessness.

Hopefully next year Furman will produce her best volume yet by selecting the 20 best stories of the year, rather than the best 19 plus one from Alice Munro.
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on November 24, 2008
All in all a good read, Some of the stories didn't impact me as much as I would have hoped, but for me the hightlight was Anthony Doerr's piece, it was brilliantly conceived with unforgettable imagery.
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on August 25, 2011
I have mixed feelings about this genre (literary). Even those in the writing field have conflicted views on what comprises literary fiction. The most cynical say anything that is dreary, moves slowly, and wrapped in sufficiently vague albeit florid prose can be classified as literary. On the other hand, literary works are often non-formulaic, cannot be neatly cast to a mold, and the best ones display incredible depth and insight. They tend to demand more from the reader because much has to be read between the lines. But the reward is great for a reader who perseveres.

However, I cannot say that the works in this collection would enjoy a wide appeal from a broad audience. I suspect only MFA students in Creative Writing programs and their mentors could truly say they enjoy most of the works in this book.

There is only one story here that I really loved, strategically placed right in the middle of the book as if the editor knew it was the spice and incentive to keep the otherwise bored reader reading. It was also the most conventional of the stories, not striving to do anything new and clever or trying too hard to be profound.

LOVED:
Touch by Alexi Zenter

CAUGHT MY INTEREST:
A Change in Fashion Steven Milhauser
The Transitional Object Sheila Kohler
Prison by Yiyun Li
A Game of Cards by Rose Tremain
Every Move You Make by David Malouf
A Composer and His Parakeets by Ha Jin

WOULD HAVE BEEN GREAT BUT,:
Village 113 by Anthony Doerr
Taiping by Brittani Sonnenberg

WANTED TO LIKE IT BUT IN THE END THOUGHT IT RIDICULOUS:
Bye-bye Natalia by Michel Faber

CANNOT BRING MYSELF TO CARE ABOUT SUBJECT MATTER:
Other people's deaths by Lore Segal
On the Lake by Olaf Olafsson
What Do You Want to Know For? by Alice Munro
The Necessity of Certain Behaviors Shannon Cain
Bad Neighbors by Edward P. Jones
Scenes from the Life of the Only Girl in Water Shield, Alaska by Tony Tulathimutte
The Bullock Run by Roger McDonald
Folie a Deux by William Trevor
The Little Boy by Mary Gatskill
A Little History of Music by William Gass

This collection, for the most part, was not enjoyable. Bleakness and dreariness seem to be requisite for literary fiction. It was hard to find joy in the pages. I got so weary of it I had to force myself to finish each story over a prolonged period of many months.

Most of the stories are centered on a theme such as loss, fear, or regret. Some also played with form. I gather that the writers explored their theme and form in the story, but I just couldn't bring myself to care.

But the stories have their merits. Each sentence is beautifully crafted. The subtle prose in elegant cadences is beyond reproach. It's almost a balm to the mind-numbing loss of subtlety in many genre works (hello, Stephenie Meyer?) Often, though, they seemed to me like perfect pieces of a puzzle that don't form a remarkable whole.

1 star for Touch, which truly touched me.
1 star for writing that didn't make me want to stab someone with a blunt knife
1 star for the new ideas I got from this book
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on June 12, 2016
Terrific stories.
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on April 1, 2010
I truly wanted to like this book, but I just can't. This edition of the O. Henry prize stories only affirms to me that literature is subjective: what is revered by some, is trash to others.

If you like rambling short stories with drifting endings (most of them), stories that spend more time describing the surroundings than the actual plot (the rest of them), then this is the book for you. Not me.
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on April 1, 2010
I truly wanted to like this book, but I just can't. This edition of the O. Henry prize stories only affirms to me that literature is subjective: what is revered by some, is trash to others.

If you like rambling short stories with drifting endings (most of them), stories that spend more time describing the surroundings than the actual plot (the rest of them), then this is the book for you. Not me.
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on February 22, 2009
These stories are excellent. I choose between one of them and a short story from The New Yorker for my bedtime reading. Well-written, varied, a delight to read!
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on March 29, 2009
Unfortunately, this book did not include the short stories I needed for Cyber High School Online School. Therefore the book is sitting in a box.
Valerie Jordan
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