Books

'The O. Henry Prize Stories' Are a True Gift, Year After Year

One of the best ways to celebrate the short story is still through anthologies such as The O. Henry Prize Stories. It's a tradition that deserves to endure.


The O. Henry Prize Stories 2013

Price: $15.95
Publisher: Anchor
Length: 512 pages
Editor: Laura Furman
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2013-10
Amazon

The O. Henry Prize Stories are always a welcome arrival on bookshelves. Each fall, lovers of short fiction get to either reconnect with stories they may have read in a favorite journal or magazine and/or discover others that somehow slipped by them. These collections are really gifts, then, a way for young writers to sniff out some of the competition, to get a sense of whom they should be reading and what publications they should be sending their own fiction to.

O. Henry has long offered a more peculiar collection than its Best American counterpart, another annual that lets readers show their appreciation for this most difficult art form. Even when stories from The New Yorker appear in an O. Henry collection they’re different, somehow, from your standard New Yorker story.

There are always familiar names. In this volume Ann Beattie, Alice Munro, and the late Ruth Prawer Jhabvala represent those talents we’ve come to expect in pages such as this. But there are also always glimpses of new talent.

Derek Palacio’s first published story, “Sugarcane”, appears here and is arguably the best of the lot. Palacio doesn’t reinvent style, though he does write beautiful, sometimes Hemingway-esque sentences and creates a muted, hazy atmosphere for the reader. Reading this story, you can smell the Cuban soil on which his story is set and see sugarcane fields ablaze in your mind’s eye. It's the story of a town doctor who takes on a pupil he doesn't think has the talent to follow in his own footsteps, while he also takes on a younger lover who will never fully belong to him. It's a beautifully constructed story that reads like a masterpiece of the modernist era.

There’s no adherence to a singular aesthetic. Kelly Link’s steam punk piece, “The Summer People”, sits alongside more traditional fare such as Munro’s “Leaving Maverly” and Deborah Eisenberg’s realistic but strange (and oh-so-complicated) “Your Duck Is My Duck”. And yet you can read the collection cover to cover or skip whole sections if you wish, landing on this gem or that. Of course, any reader will find bum notes, question the sanity and taste of the prize jury, or perhaps even the editor who chose the story for publication in the first place. That, too, is the special beauty of collections such as this, ones that show the dynamic range of fiction at this moment.

And, maybe more than that, the power of a simple story told well.

Nalini Jones’ beautifully rendered “Tiger” is an example; there’s an understatedness that compels the reader to turn the pages back to the beginning and read it again, seeking out the finer points of the writer’s craft. George McCormick follows this line too, with “The Mexican”, a piece inspired by the underappreciated writer William Kittredge’s “Stone Boat”. Polly Rosenwaike’s “White Carnations” examines the familiar with an unfamiliar eye. Each is haunting in its own way and each will warrant further appreciation.

If one wonders where to begin, the jurors might provide some guidance via the short essay each has penned on his or her favorite. Lauren Groff takes up “Your Duck Is My Duck”, Edith Pearlman champions “The Summer People”, and Jim Shepard (rather wisely) admires Andrea Barrett’s “The Particles”. Surprisingly, none take up Donald Antrim’s wonderful “He Knew” or Palacio’s “Sugarcane”. These two stories really are the best of them all. Well, at least to one reader.

7

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image