THE O. HENRY PRIZE STORIES 2003 by Laura Furman


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Eighty-six years, another twenty stories: New series editor Furman, along with judges David Guterson, Diane Johnson, and Jennifer Egan, presents this year’s roundup of prize tales, ranging from the traditional to the experimental, though almost all taking aim at the human heart.

“There is a tendency in short ficion—I feel it when writing myself—to conclude and resolve,” says Egan, but the stories she helped choose seem bonded by a lack of that very tendency. There are as many new names here as familiar ones, among the latter are A.S. Byatt, William Trevor, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Evan S. Connell, William Kittredge, and Tim O’Brien. Standouts include Edith Pearlman’s “The Story,” in which a story of resistance accompanies one course of an annual dinner among friends, this time held at a new restaurant that, like the tale, recalls a different era; Ann Harleman’s “Meanwhile,” a heartbreakingly fragmented account—memos, flyers, crossword puzzles—of a couple trying to save love as one of them descends into the pit of multiple sclerosis; Douglas Light’s “Three Days. A Month. More,” a poetic account of two young Puerto Rican girls contemplating their heritage and overdue bills as they live alone in the apartment their mother has abandoned; an installment from Alice Munro (“Fathers”) about a young man’s experience with a neighbor girl’s hatred of her father and what this tells him of his own father; and the best of the bunch, Denis Johnson’s “Train Dreams,” a borderline novella of a man’s preindustrial life lived entirely in an apocryphal panhandle of northern Idaho. You get the sense that this latest volume, judging from the range of sources sometimes very small (The Idaho Review, Alaska Quarterly Review), is a much better sampling of literature from a single year than usual.

Overall, a highly talented lineup—and well worth the asking price.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 2003
ISBN: 1-4000-3131-1
Page count: 464pp
Publisher: Anchor
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2003


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