Latest installment of the esteemed annual award volume, with some sterling examples of short fiction winningly—in all senses—executed.
One doesn’t envy the O. Henry Prize judges their work, given that “all stories originally written in the English language and published in an American or Canadian periodical are eligible for consideration.” Of the many hundreds or even thousands of candidates thus in the running, the annual volume finds room for just 20. It’s small wonder that top-tier practitioners of the form such as Elizabeth McCracken and Russell Banks should be among the winners, but, to Furman and company’s credit, there’s room for relative newcomers as well. Among the highlights of the volume, in that regard, is Dina Nayeri’s story “A Ride out of Phrao,” which proves the point of Wallace Stegner’s observation that American literature is one of movement even as it serves up some sly humor: “At the next meeting of her church’s widows group—an organization she joined despite the very alive state of both her ex-husbands—Shirin told the other ladies that she had quit her job because of exhaustion.” It’s more than exhaustion that causes Shirin to leave the comforts of Cedar Rapids for the unknown wonders of Chiang Mai and beyond, though. Judge Michael Parker writes that, among other criteria, he “need[s] to be invested in all that is at stake for the characters,” information that an expert writer will share out carefully, as Lynn Sharon Schwartz does in her story “The Golden Rule,” a deft study of a hard-to-like subject (“She was mean-spirited, bigoted”) who becomes more interesting in death. Winning image for the year, courtesy of Emma Törzs: “She was a sharp-toothed heeler with the erratic territorialism of a cokehead landlord.”
What makes a short story tick? This collection doesn’t offer a definitive curriculum, but it does contain plenty of good case studies.