cover image Prize Stories: The Best of 1997: The O. Henry Awards

Prize Stories: The Best of 1997: The O. Henry Awards

. Anchor Books, $23 (500pp) ISBN 978-0-385-48361-2

It is encouraging that the best of The Best American Short Stories of 1997 (see review above) don't even make it into the 50 Honorable Mentions of this year's O. Henry Prize. Occasionally overshadowed in the public imagination, the (79-year-old) younger of the two major annual collections--published, for the first time, in fall instead of spring--is at least as good as its older (82-year-old) sibling: clearly, there's more than enough exciting, original short-story-writing to go around. Ranked by three prominent authors (another first) from a pool selected by Dark, the first new editor in 30 years, these 20 stories are an impressively varied, almost uniformly strong bunch. Indeed, many readers will enjoy the luxury of second-guessing judges David Foster Wallace, Louise Erdrich and Thom Jones, as runners-up from literary grandparents John Barth and Alice Munro--and relative newcomers Matthew Klam and Rick Moody--stand up valiantly against prize-winners by Mary Gordon, George Saunders, Carol Shields and Lee K. Albott. In Barth's ""On with the Story,"" a harried, lonely divorcee on an airplane picks up a magazine story that closely describes her plight--then discovers that she's sitting next to the author. In Munro's ""The Love of a Good Woman,"" a middle-aged nurse in a small Canadian town of the 1940s hears the last confession, and must share the guilt of the woman whose husband she secretly loves. In Klam's wonderfully mordant ""The Royal Palms,"" a troubled husband and wife get a sexual jumpstart from the attractive young couple they meet at a Caribbean resort. And in Moody's very moving ""Demonology,"" a man reconstructs the events that led to his sister's sudden death. Of course, it's all in the telling--and other readers will have other favorites. For once, though, none will come away disappointed. (Oct.)