Book review: The O. Henry Prize Stories 2016, ed. by Laura Furman

posted: January 29, 2017

tl;dr: The short story is not dead, as this anthology series proves annually...

I first started reading the annual O. Henry Prize story anthology series back in 1996, so this year’s volume was the twentieth that I’ve read (the publisher skipped a year during that timespan). While the magazine business has changed considerably over those twenty years, thanks to the rise of the Internet and the popularity of other forms of media, there still remain authors writing serious short stories and editors and publishers who are bringing those works to the world at large. I enjoy this series as much as I did when I first started reading it, and I recommend it and short stories in general as a great way to expose oneself to the works of a range of different authors.

There is more than a little subjectivity in the judging process for any work of art, so I never completely agree with the editor's selections. “Your mileage may vary” too. That said, here are the stories I enjoyed the most in this volume:

“Irises”, by Elizabeth Genovise: a wonderfully human story about making life-changing choices, and the degree to which luck, timing, and feelings influence those choices. Genovise’s well-crafted words immediately draw the reader into the story, which is written from a point-of-view that I can’t recall ever seeing in print before.

“Bonus Baby”, by Joe Donnelly: perhaps one needs to be a baseball fan, as I am, to fully appreciate this story, but for those who are, they will find “Bonus Baby” to be one of the best short stories ever written about the sport which has inspired more literature than any other. It’s a story about focus, remaining calm in extraordinary circumstances, and the reliance we all ultimately have on each other, even for what most think of as a solo achievement.

“Exit Zero”, by Marie-Helene Bertino: has one element of the supernatural in it, but is otherwise an entirely grounded-in-reality story about a woman learning about her deceased father from what he does and does not leave behind, only some of which are physical objects.

“Bounty”, by Diane Cook: a quirky story about how an affluent estate owner goes about living his final days before the apparent end of the world due to a cataclysmic slow-rising flood. The real subject of the story is inequality in society, yet Cook approaches the subject in such an off-handed way that it never feels preachy.