LITERATURE

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2019: The Best Short Stories of the Year

Knopf. (O. Henry Prize Collection). Sept. 2019. 400p. ed. by ed. by Laura Furman. ISBN 9780525565536. pap. $15.95ebk. ISBN 9780525565543. LIT
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Since 1918, the O. Henry Awards have celebrated the best short fiction published in North American periodicals each year. As with previous collections in the series, this 100th anniversary edition is less concerned with setting standards for a short story canon than showcasing a range of up-to-the-minute fiction and offering a look at subjects that interest contemporary writers. The majority of the 20 featured stories build on how identity—social, racial, cultural, familial, sexual, and otherwise—forms and shifts. While works in translation are not eligible for inclusion, the stories chosen by editor Furman (founding editor, American Short Fiction), with novelist judges Lynn Freed, Elizabeth Strout, and Lara Vapnyar, explore a range of cultures, eras, and experience. From John Edgar Wideman’s “Maps and Ledgers,” an intergenerational tale of code switching pinned to a young black professor’s memories of his grandmother’s elegant handwriting, to adolescent Jem’s intrepid attempts to puzzle out the world of adults in Sarah Hall’s “Goodnight Nobody,” to the subtle navigation of race and relationship over dinner in Weike Wang’s “Omakase,” this eclectic anthology is sometimes uneven but intriguing throughout.
VERDICT A solid inclusion for libraries with strong contemporary fiction collections.

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