Latest installment of the storied short fiction prize volume, a going concern for a century.
There was a time, not so long ago, when short story writers were concentrating, tediously, on the lives of short story writers and their on-campus foibles. Horizons have expanded, and perhaps because it’s such a horrible time, the writers in Furman’s latest collection often tend to the horrible and its repercussions. In Viet Dinh’s memorable, ironically titled “Lucky Dragon,” Japanese sailors who ventured too close to the American H-bomb tests off Bikini Atoll return home to transmogrify; now monsters because of radiation poisoning, they are also the victims of superstition: “Already some of the villagers think that if they eat our flesh, they will live forever,” says one bitterly, while another so terrifies his wife that “She handled his bowls and utensils as if they were made from lightning.” In Jo Ann Beard’s “The Tomb of Wrestling,” a young girl, squeamish about animals anyway, spends time on her grandparents’ farm, where butchering animals, “food in its sentient state,” is the norm; as an adult, attacked in her own kitchen, she is forced to respond violently to the violence being visited on her. It’s a scary and all too real tale of terror. In Pakistan, the protagonist of Jamil Jan Kochai’s “Nights in Logar” happens upon a scene of carnage when a shepherd, distracted by a passing American helicopter, takes his eyes from his flock for a moment. A dog attacks so viciously that “he thought his poor little lamb had exploded from the inside out.” In a land of unending war, people wind up the same way. And as for Tristan Hughes’ “Up Here,” whose first paragraph ends, “We were going to shoot the dog. Or rather, I was going to shoot the dog,” you just know things aren’t going to turn out well.
A strong collection of first-rate work without a false note. Essential for students of the form.