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The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013: Including stories by Donald Antrim, Andrea Barrett, Ann Beattie, Deborah Eisenberg, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, Kelly Link, ... and Lily Tuck (The O. Henry Prize Collection) Paperback – September 10, 2013
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"Another installment [of] the esteemed literary award volume, full, as ever, of exemplary short fiction.... Essential for students of contemporary fiction." --Kirkus Reviews
“Widely regarded as the nation’s most prestigious awards for short fiction.” —The Atlantic Monthly
About the Author
Laura Furman, series editor of The O. Henry Prize Stories since 2003, is the winner of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts for her fiction. The author of seven books, including her recent story collection The Mother Who Stayed, she taught writing for many years at the University of Texas at Austin. She lives in Central Texas.
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Second, before rendering my subjective opinion about the twenty stories in this collection, I should state that I prefer traditional character-driven short stories with a lot of heart. By heart, I mean stories that powerfully engage my emotions. Plus, the best stories engage my intellect as well.
Based on these criteria, I found the best four stories in this collection to be "Leaving Maverly" by Alice Munro; "He Knew" by Donald Antrim; "Where Do You Go?" by Samar Farah Fitzgerald; and "Sinkhole" by Jamie Quatro.
"Leaving Maverly" by short story master Alice Munro relates the love story of Ray, a policeman, and Isabel, his invalid wife. Their steadfast love is artfully punctuated by the periodic appearance of a dynamic younger woman named Leah for whom dramatic change seems to be a way of life.
"He Knew" by Donald Antrim is about Stephen and Alice, a woman and her considerably older husband who decide to indulge in a day of retail therapy that begins at Bergdorf Goodman and continues along a string of luxury stores on Madison Avenue. Both members of the couple are medicated for psychiatric issues. During this journey, they experience an exhausting run of ups and downs and steps backward and forward that do nothing to extinguish their ardent love, and the story ends in a moment of extraordinary hope fully supported by the reader.
Samar Farah Fitzgerald's story "Where Do You Go?" is a fascinating story of a young couple who unintentionally move to a small village populated by senior citizens about an hour from the big city where they hold professional publishing jobs that allow them to work from home. At first, they are both amused by and a bit wary of their situation. Eventually, they are pulled into the community in a way that makes Henry and Vega truly examine their marriage and feel the inevitable passage of time.
"Sinkhole" by Jamie Quatro is about an intriguing summer camp romance between Benjamin, a super fit fifteen-year-old track star who falsely believes he has a hole in his heart because his brother has died of a heart defect, and Wren, a sexually curious girl his age who has lost her reproductive organs and colon to cancer surgeries.
Although I'm drawn to traditional stories, there are two excellent non-traditional stories in this collection: "The Summer People" by Kelly Link; and "The History of Girls" by Ayse Papatya Bucak. "Summer People" is a captivating fantasy, and the "History of Girls" is the moving account of dead and dying girls conversing in the rubble of their collapsed school.
Other strong stories include "Your Duck Is My Duck," by Deborah Eisenberg; "Sugarcane" by Derek Palacio; "White Carnations" by Polly Rosenwaike; "Sail" by Tash Aw; "Lay My Head" by L. Annette Binder; "Aphrodisiac" by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; "Two Opinions" by Joan Silber; "Tiger" by Nalini Jones; and "The Particles" by Andrea Barrett.
So I found fifteen out of the twenty stories very engaging. Out of the remaining five stories, four didn't really make a significant impression on me, and one story seemed flawed,"The Visitor" by Asako Serizawa. Despite the many merits of this story, I felt it was too full of ambiguity. In my book, a bit of ambiguity, used correctly, can add a lot of value to a story. The reader can see that the story contains multiple possibilities or outcomes, and the reader gets a chance to co-author the story to some extent. I learned from reading the author's comments that "The Visitor" is one of a trilogy of stories, and these stories cannot be fully understood unless one reads all three.
Overall, this is a very satisfying and worthwhile story collection.