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THE O. HENRY PRIZE STORIES 2019

Essential, as always, for buffs and students of the modern short story.

Centenary volume of the esteemed short fiction annual, filled with standouts.

As the publisher writes, with welcome transparency, in an opening note, the choices in this volume are made by series editor and novelist/memoirist Furman (Ordinary Paradise, 1998, etc.); the jurors—in this case, Lara Vapnyar, Lynn Freed, and Elizabeth Strout—pick and comment on their favorite submission among the 20 Furman proffers. That understood, Furman appears to have broad tastes and no fear of sudden violence, something many of the stories exhibit. Perhaps the best—as with most prize volumes, especially those of limited scope, there’s not really a bad story in the bunch, but some are naturally enough better than others—is Canadian author Alexander MacLeod’s searing “Lagomorph,” whose title commemorates an unusually long-lived rabbit whose days are nearly ended by an unwonted visit outdoors and an encounter there with a hungry snake. The metaphor could be obvious in a story whose guiding arc is the deterioration of a long marriage, but MacLeod keeps his eye on the rabbit and firm control over a story packed with meaning: “I couldn’t feel anything out of place, and couldn’t tell if there was something else wrong, something broken deeper inside of him.” Speaking of control, Souvankham Thammavongsa turns the tables nicely with her story “Slingshot,” depicting a 70-year-old woman whose relationship with a 32-year-old man is sexual and sensual but whose terms she sets, quietly rebuking the noisy and nosy: “Old is a thing that happened outside,“ thinks her narrator when one bore reminds her of the age difference. The violence returns in John Edgar Wideman’s self-assured “Maps and Ledgers,” concerning a rising African American academic whose daily burden is by no means lessened when his father kills a man, while Rachel Kondo’s “Girl of Few Seasons” lays a memorable foundation for the reasons why a Vietnam-bound Hawaiian man must kill his flock of homing pigeons, “a steady heartbeat in his hands."

Essential, as always, for buffs and students of the modern short story.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-56553-6

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Anchor

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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