It's been ""a vintage year"" for the short story according to Abrahams -- so much so that for the first time in the 55-year history of the O. Henry series two stories have been jointly awarded First Prize. Harold Brodkey's ""A Story in an Almost Classical Mode"" -- whose protagonists are the shrill hysterical voice of Brodkey's dying mother and his own tentative thirteen-year-old mind -- caused a minor literary tremor when it was published in the New Yorker September, 1973. In its own vein, it's an absolutely peerless story. But in another, Cynthia Ozick's ""Usurpation (Other People's Stories)"" sets off the Brodkey family tragedy with the wild mischievous joy that she and her writers-in-arms take in stealing material and usurping their masters -- a complex nest of invention that's hard to beat. Unless you skip to E. L. Doctorow's ""Ragtime"" -- a politicized evocation of the turn of the rotten century featuring characters like Jacob Riis, Theodore Dreiser, Houdini, ""the 400"" and Sigmund Freud. John Updike's lyrical study of ""Nakedness"" proves that no matter how good you know he is, he's underestimated. Ray Carver's subtle and spooky denouement of an ordinary wrong number and William Kotzwinlde's harshly real account of a stillbirth are exceptional pieces from highly original writers; and there are also stories from Alice Adams, William Maxwell, Tom Disch, Patricia Zelver, James Alan McPherson, Russell Banks. On the whole? Alienated, guilt-ridden, divided along class lines, resolved to carry on for better or worse: America, this year, in a flotilla of nutshells.