The Pen/O.Henry Prize Stories 2010
Edited by Laura Furman

Anchor Books/Random House New York
April 25, 2010
Hardcover/480 pages
ISBN: 978-0-307472366
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". . . unique in style, communicate worldwide experiences and artfully expose human emotions . . ."

“The Pen/O.Henry Prize Stories 2010” volume is prodigious, again achieving its goal since 1919 to strengthen the art of the short story. This year’s 20 prize stories are unique in style, communicate worldwide experiences and artfully expose human emotions.

A bonus is essays by three award-winning authors who select, from blind manuscripts, their favorite story, and explain why. Pulitzer-prize jurist Junot Díaz says his choice, “A Spoiled Man,” by Daniyal Mueenuddin,” about a servant in Islamabad who works for a newly rich-educated Pakistani married to an American woman, is “disarming…with Chekovian rhythms.”

Yiyun Li selected “The Woman of the House,” because it brings into question how much is enough to be happy. In the story, the lives of a “crippled man” and his caretaker, a distant cousin with a failed marriage, are disrupted when two “Gypsies” are hired to paint the house. “Oh, Death” by James Lasdun was Paula Fox’s selection, about a neighbor who observes a tree-trimmer’s life as it descends into personal destruction.

Other than those selected by the jurists with whom I agree, I was impressed with the originality of formats and themes utilized by Damon Galut, a South African who relates his personal journey in “The Lover,” in both first and third person, because memory is a “kind of fiction,” and also with Ted Sander’s dislike of the sterile obituary prompts him to use the obituary layout in his submission, “Obit.” While John Edgar Wideman, interested in “flash fiction,” submits gripping micro short stories about everyday living.

Two stories I found outstanding were Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Proulx’s “Them Old Cowboy Songs,” about a young ranching couple’s struggles in the unforgiving cold of rugged Wyoming, and Daniel Alarcón’s captivating “The Bridge,” in which a truck driver misjudges the height of a pedestrian overpass used daily by a blind couple.

But all of this year’s prize stories are distinctive, and aptly memorializing prolific writer William Sydney Porter (1862-1910) whose nickname, O. Henry, is attached to the annual writing prize. The volume includes an introduction by this year’s editor, Laura Furman, who describes the short story as “brief and intense residence in another world,” along with insight from the winners on what inspired them to write their story.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla