The O. Henry Prize Stories 2017 edited by Laura Furman, Anchor Books, US $16.00, Pp 332, September 2017, ISBN 978-0525432500
Anchor Books has established the great tradition of bringing some twenty best American and Canadian short stories to its readers. Most of us cannot read all or most literary magazines and journals and select the best stories from them. Laura Furman and the three jurors do this commendable job for us. Writing good short stories is not easy as some of us may think. In fact, it is more difficult to tell a great story in much fewer words than in a novel.
In the introduction to The O. Henry Prize Stories 2017, Laura Furman writes, “Short stories sometimes end ambiguously, but they cannot end indefinitely and still be a complete story. Short story endings are sometimes a sore point with readers, who feel they have been thrown off a cliff. What happened? What’s going to happen next? If these are the reader’s questions at the end, the story might not be right yet.” Short story beginnings are even more demanding of writer and reader. Laura Furman writes, “The reader must be immediately involved. This does not mean that we as readers necessarily understand the beginning. It just means that the writer has succeeded in placing us in the world of the story, and we don’t want to leave until it’s over because we feel involved, curious and committed.”
In Michelle Huneven’s ‘Too Good To Be True’, for the parents of Gayle, a junkie in recovery, the past is all about their young daughter’s alcoholism and drug addiction. Tahmima Anam’s ‘Garments,’ is set against the grisly garment trade of Dhakka. The young women workers in ‘Garments’ are pressured to meet their quotas of finished garments. They work in the unventilated heat. Three young women are willing to marry an unknown man because his gender will give them a tiny boost of social power and the ability to rent a living space for themselves. After a festival, people are lined up for their rides home in Mary La Chapelle’s ‘Floating Garden.’ An army truck is labeled ‘TAXI, and women are being pushed into the truck ahead of men. There is no room in that taxi for men, but why now?
There are twenty stories in this collection. Other stories include ‘Something for a Young Woman,’ by Genevieve Plunkett, ‘The Buddhist,’ Alan Rossi, ‘Protection,’ by Paola Peroni, ‘Night Garden, by Shruti Swamy, ‘A Cruelty,’ by Kevin Barry, ‘The Trusted Traveler, by Joseph O’Neill, ‘Blue Dot,” by Keith Eisner, ‘Lion,’ by Wil Weitzel, ‘Paddle to Canada,’ by Heather Monley, ‘A Small Sacrifice for an Enormous Happiness,’ by Jai Chakrabarti, ‘The Bride and the Street Party,’ by Kate Cayley, ‘Secret Lives of the Detainees,’ by Amit Majmudar, ‘Glory,’ by Lesley Nneka Arimah, ‘Mercedes Benz,’ by Martha Cooley, ‘The Reason Is Because,’ by Manuel Muñoz, ‘The Family Whistle,’ by Gerard Woodward, and ‘Buttony,’ by Fiona McFarlane.
The O. Henry Prize Stories 2017 is an amazing collection of short stories for those who have little time to read fiction or who enjoy short stories as much as novels. These brilliantly written stories have different themes and all of them are relevant. These are the themes that concern all of us in one way or other. Laura Furman has done a great job in picking these stories with the help of jurors David Bradley, Elizabeth McCracken, and Brad Watson. Many of the characters in these stories will create empathy in your hearts for the characters. If you have read the previous years’ collections and liked them, you will surely like this one too. If you are reading this series for the first time, you will surely want to read previous collections as well.