Book Review: The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016: The Best Stories of the Year
The 20 tales packed into this volume go to unexpected places and reveal lifetimes in just a handful of pages
Reviewed by Joe O'Connell, Fri., Nov. 4, 2016
Let's get this out of the way first: The short story is not a mini-book, not a practice ground for would-be novelists, not for academic dunderheads. The short story is an explosion, a revelation of humanity, a monster that makes the reader squirm. You should be reading one now. UT creative writing prof (and esteemed fiction writer) Laura Furman has led the O. Henry Prize Stories charge since 2003 in Austin, the city that introduced the prize's namesake to drink and put him behind bars for an issue surrounding missing bank funds. Incarcerated, O. Henry had time to write in earnest. (Writers are slightly envious of that "time.")
Twenty stories culled from literary journals pack this latest volume. Some names may be familiar, many not. Consider Marie-Helene Bertino's "Exit Zero," about a woman having to quickly clean out the home of her estranged father. In his backyard, she discovers a unicorn. Not a My Little Pony big-eyed cutie, but a messy, hungry, but lovable beast who slurps down her family photographs. Or the book's shortest piece, Sam Savage's "Cigarettes," about three two-pack-a-day smokers existing in a world that shuns them. In two scant pages, it reveals lifetimes. Lydia Fitzpatrick's ripped-from the-zeitgeist "Safety" puts the reader on ground zero of a school shooting as kids huddle in the coach's office under a parachute and hear gunfire and footsteps outside the door. Joe Donnelly's dancing prose in "Bonus Baby" makes even this non-baseball fan understand for once. The best of the lot is Elizabeth Genovise's "Irises," which is told from the unlikely viewpoint of a fetus that may or may not soon be aborted. Yes, the notion sounds trite and treacly, but the story isn't. Instead, it goes to unexpected places and is flat-out a thing of beauty and truth.
The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016: The Best Stories of the Yearedited by Laura Furman
Anchor Books, 400 pp., $16
Laura Furman will speak about The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016 in the session “O. Henry Prize Celebration!” with authors Peter Cameron, Ottessa Mosfegh, and Shruti Swamy, on Sat., Nov. 5, 11:45am, in Capitol Extension Room E2.028.