Prize Stories: The O. Henry Awards

Larry Dark, Editor, Larry Dark, Introduction by
Larry Dark, Editor, Larry Dark, Introduction by Anchor Books $23 (432p) ISBN 978-0-385-49877-7
Reviewed on: 09/11/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-0-385-49358-1
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-1106-2
Prebound-Sewn - 978-1-4177-1108-6
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In this 80th annual collection of fiction published under the O. Henry banner, editor Dark doesn't try to comment on the state of fiction but, simply and wisely, aims to present 20 superlative stories. He succeeds in nearly every case. The collection features rising stars like Nathan Englander and Andrea Barrett, venerated pros like Russell Banks, Mary Gordon and Allan Gurganus, and many newer voices. Though awarding first, second and third prizes to particular stories in such a worthy group may seem superfluous, it's difficult to argue with the choices. John Edgar Wideman's first prize-winning ""Weight"" alternates nimbly between cool-mouth slang and raw emotion in its portrait of a young man's relationship to his formidable mother. The second prize goes to ""The Man with the Lapdog,"" Beth Lordan's quiet tale of marriage and accommodation, set in Ireland. Gordon's ""The Deacon,"" the third prize winner, takes the reader deftly into the mind of Sister Joan Fitzgerald, a nun forced to attend to the spiritual needs of a man she doesn't like. Gordon's story begins a subtheme of religious experience and inspiration, followed by Melissa Pritchard's ""Salve Regina,"" which translates the pain of adolescence through a young girl's fascination with the headmistress of her Catholic school. Scientific themes thread through several stories, as in Barrett's ""Theories of Rain,"" where simple experiments with the natural world occur against a backdrop of 19th-century Philadelphia. The collection ends, fittingly, with a posthumously published story by Raymond Carver, whose impact on short fiction is difficult to overstate. The story, ""Kindling,"" in which a lonely ex-alcoholic spends his days cutting wood for his landlords, revives common Carver themes of wandering and redemption through small, tangible acts. The book includes short essays by each of the three judges, Michael Cunningham, Pam Houston and George Saunders, and lists 50 other notable stories of 1999. (Sept.)
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