Latest installment of the state-of-the–art form annual prize volume, closing in on its first century.
A writer without chops couldn’t get away with time travel that nets the narrator a fetal point of view. Elizabeth Genovise, whose story “Irises” opens this year’s prize collection, dares to take that stance in writing of a woman who “is a few hours away from leaving her marriage and a few days away from ending my life,” planning to terminate a pregnancy in favor of life with a lover. In scarcely a dozen pages, Genovise compresses the entirety of the now-grown woman’s relationship with her mother, and it’s a marvel to behold. The succeeding story, by a young Indian immigrant named Geetha Iyer, is just as marvelous, playing with the conventions of magical realism to imagine a Borges-ian archive that includes islands, polar bears, and a substantial portion of the Arctic Ocean, all neatly filed away in matching envelopes. Asako Serizawa’s story “Train to Harbin” wrestles matter-of-factly with the enormity of war, an old survivor resignedly confessing that “At my age it is time, not space, that is palpable, its physicality reminding me of the finality of all our choices, made and lived.” There is, naturally enough, a meta piece, Frederic Tuten’s “Winter, 1965,” about a writer’s tribulations; Furman is right to say that Tuten “gets everything right,” and he surely does, but it’s a slippery slope. Warhorses Robert Coover and Wendell Berry turn in work that is unsurprisingly excellent—it would be a surprise, that is, if it were anything less, but neither contribution is much of a revelation. The anthology tends to the well tried and already well published, some of whom acquit themselves with better than usual work—Ron Carlson, for instance, a fixture but seldom a standout in such story anthologies, turns in an eye-opening story with the obliquely titled “Happiness.”
An unfailingly well-chosen collection, though one looks forward to more new voices in volumes to come.