Prize Stories, the Best of 1998: The O. Henry Awards

Larry Dark, Editor Anchor Books $23 (468p) ISBN 978-0-385-48958-4
The 78th volume in the series (the second edited by Dark), this year's O. Henry collection is full of powerful performances, from the furiously ironic Lorrie Moore tale that opens the volume (the first-place story) to the heart-shattering Annie Proulx story that closes it. In ""People Like That Are the Only People Here"" (also in her current collection, Birds of America), Moore takes on an event nearly impossible to relate dispassionately (but she does), of a mother who sees her baby endangered by cancer. In ""Brokeback Mountain"" Proulx tells, with restraint and wrenching clarity, of two dirt-poor Wyoming ranch hands and the hard bargains they make to love each other. Other familiar authors work the veins they have already claimed. Steven Millhauser's second-prize entry, ""The Knife Thrower"" (the title of his latest collection), describes collusion between a performer and his voyeuristic audience in the best Poesque Millhauser style. Alice Munro's third-prize story, ""The Children Stay"" (in her collection, The Love of a Good Woman, forthcoming in November), describes a woman on an emotional precipice, capturing the moment a young mother walks out on her children. In ""Satan: Highjacker of a Planet,"" Louise Erdrich gives us a girl drawn into religious and sexual passion. There are also gems here by less celebrated writers, such as Akhil Sharma's ""Cosmopolitan,"" about a lonely Indian immigrant trying to adapt to love American style, and Maxine Swann's ""Flower Children,"" in which parents in perpetual flower-childhood raise offspring. Many of the stories work common American themes: unhinged Protestantism, displacement and reinvention of self, and the wilderness, both physical and emotional. Some stories ramble, and others fall back on violence for effect. But the refreshing voices of Reginald McKnight, Peter Weltner, George Saunders and Thom Jones redress the balance. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 09/14/1998
Release date: 09/01/1998
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