PRIZE STORIES 1997

THE O. HENRY AWARDS

The fortunes of the short story are about as uncertain today as those of Bosnia, mainly because it's no longer clear whether this once-popular literary form has many readers who are not writers themselves. This new entry in the venerable annual series doesn't much help clarify matters. The tales gathered by editor Dark (The Literary Traveler, 1994) were originally published in the usual rarefied venues—i.e., nonprofit quarterlies and the New Yorker— and most of them read like workshop exercises or novel fragments. Mary Gordon, in ``City Life,'' leads off the parade with yet another of her postmodern Horatio Alger tales, this one about a faculty wife at Columbia who thinks she has put her lower-class origins safely behind her until a weird encounter with a deranged neighbor. John Barth, in ``On With the Story,'' gets metaphysical in his description of an unhappily married young woman on a cross- country flight increasingly unsettled by the short story she is reading, which seems practically a portrait of her own life, and unaware that the stranger in the seat beside her is its author. ``Dancing After Hours'' gives us Andre Dubus's by-now quite familiar portrait of broken-down passion in backwoods Massachusetts, this time involving a retired schoolteacher who tends bar and an invalid. Representatives of the younger generation include Thomas Glave, who, in ``The Final Inning,'' describes the tensions that build up among the friends and relatives of a young black man from the ghetto who has died of AIDS, and how they erupt- -quite literally over the body of the deceased. And Rick Moody, in ``Demonology,'' also deals with a death in the family, this one being a young mother in suburban New Jersey who is remembered by her troubled younger brother. Pale and wan and surprisingly unambitious throughout. Introspection may be the prerequisite of serious literature, but it is not its end—and is obviously not its guarantee.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0-385-48361-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1997

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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