PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2011: The Best Stories of the Year
“The 20 short stories in this collection cover widely varying themes with uniformly excellent skill. . . . Highly recommended.”
The 20 short stories in this collection cover widely varying themes with uniformly excellent skill. Styles of writing vary considerably, and that’s just part of the success of this book. For anyone who writes or, for that matter, reads, the structure of the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories is fascinating, with the authors of each story adding a page or two about their stories and how the stories came to be. Additionally, three jurors, (A. M. Homes, Manuel Muñoz, and Christine Schutt) each selected a favorite and described why it was chosen.
The compressed world of the short story can be oddly expansive when well considered and written. These stories offer more than a glimpse into other worlds, as each is the equivalent of a full-sized novel in breadth and depth. An intriguing aspect of this collection is that several selections are stories that involve homosexuality in a subtle way. In none is that the subject of the story and, in each case, if the relationship involved were heterosexual, it wouldn’t seriously affect the story line. It’s perhaps a measure of social acceptance that didn’t exist even a few short years ago.
It’s unfair for a reviewer to single out specific stories, as each and every reader will bring individual sensibilities to the reading. Nevertheless, as examples of the wide variety available here, consider Jim Shepard’s “Your Fate Hurtles Down at You.” The subject could be thought of as avalanches when it may actually be fear or, possibly, regret. There are other possibilities woven throughout this gripping tale peppered with arcane knowledge of avalanches in the mountains of Switzerland.
Contrast that with “Never Come Back” by Elizabeth Tallent. In 28 pages, Ms. Tallent produces a story spanning about six years in the lives of a small family. This story has extraordinary sensitivity, power, and drama. The insights into character and situation exhibited by both of these stories are to be found in each of the other 18. This collection is highly recommended.