From Publishers Weekly
A new, wider-ranging selection process (allowing the consideration of all English-language writers appearing in North American publications regardless of citizenship) makes this one of the strongest O. Henry collections in recent years, with stories by, among others, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ("The American Embassy"), A.S. Byatt ("The Thing in the Forest") and William Trevor ("Sacred Statues"). Other standouts include Anthony Doerr's "The Shell Collector," which details the daily rituals of a blind shell gatherer; Bradford Morrow's "Lush," the tale of an alcoholic husband forced to confront the possibility of redemption after the loss of his equally addicted wife; and the enchantingly bucolic "Swept Away" by T. Coraghessan Boyle, in which a strange set of circumstances brings together a grizzled Scotsman and a demure American birdwatcher. Ann Harleman incorporates crossword puzzles and e-mails into "Meanwhile," a story about the pressures of attending to a chronically ill spouse, while Evan S. Connell's delightfully clever "Election Eve" juxtaposes marital and political conflict against the backdrop of a pre-election masquerade party. Denis Johnson's "Train Dreams," which could arguably be classified as a novella, is a sweeping, dreamlike portrait of the American west as seen through the eyes of a man who has lost his wife and young daughter in a fire. An extra bonus is an appendix in which the 2003 jurors (Jennifer Egan, David Guterson and Diane Johnson) weigh in on their top choices. This is a collection of literary gems that would surely please the man for whom the prize is named.
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Laura Furman, taking the editorial helm of this respected annual, posits that when reading short stories, "we are better than we are in life, more ready to be empathic, more ready to see why another made the choices he did." Among Furman's 20 selections are established masters such as Alice Munro, T. Correghessan Boyle, and Tim O'Brien. Standouts include Marjorie Kemper's "God's Goodness," in which a dying teenager tests the faith of the Christian immigrant who cares for him; and "The High Road," by Joan Silber, in which a jaded ballet teacher has his heart broken by a young student. Two writers on the prize jury selected Denis Johnson's "Train Dreams" as their favorite; the astonishing novella documents the life and death of a simple hermit widower out West, and also mourns the passing of a particular way of life. Regular fans of the anthology may miss the list of 50 "short-listed" stories, which, in this volume, has been whittled down to 15. Nonetheless, students, teachers, and all short story aficionados who seek this volume out will be rewarded. James KliseCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved