An outstanding edition from a perennial pushing into its ninth decade.
Rich in character, language and style, this year’s 20 O. Henry Prize–winners compiled by guest editors Kevin Brockmeier, Francine Prose and Colm Tóibín, and series editor Furman, include star turns by established masters of the form—Alice Munro’s breathtakingly sly “Passion,” about a rural girl who chooses risk over protection, and Deborah Eisenberg’s ferocious “Window,” in which a woman escapes violence only to live in the memory of it. Two stories by newcomers whose first published works augur great things to come are the mythical “Conceived,” by David Lawrence Morse, inspired by a Russian folk-art sculpture of a fish, and the elegiac father-son rift, “Mule Killers,” by Lydia Peelle. Other standouts are Edward P. Jones’s marvelous “Old Boys, Old Girls,” about an ex-con’s wary reunion with his family; Melanie Rae Thon’s “Letters in the Snow,” in which a desperate woman attempts to atone for her transgressions; and Stephanie Reents’s “Disquisition on Tears,” in which a headless woman makes a house call to a stranger who is dying. There are also two very different stories about desire, Lara Vapnyar’s “Puffed Rice and Meatballs” and Xu Xi’s “Famine,” that bring fresh cultural insight. As the opportunity for authors to publish in large circulation magazines wanes year by year, literary journals have begun to rise in prestige. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that 14 of these 20 stories come from nine small university publications and relatively new, mostly shoe-string budget, private enterprises (notably, the multiple entries from Cornell’s Epoch and the innovative One Story). Four of the remaining stories were first published in the New Yorker , the other two in Harper’s (two).
In short: a must-have collection.