Literature: PEN/ O. Henry Prizes 2009

Title: The PEN/ O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 // Editor: Laura Furman // Publisher: Anchor Books // Date: May 2009 // p. 432

pen-o-henry-2009 Hot off the press: The PEN/ O. Henry Prize Stories 2009. This superfab story collection was just released yesterday, but I carried a pre-pub copy with me to read on a weekend jaunt to Michigan. I’ll enthusiastically report that none of these twenty stories had me dozing on the plane. Each of them is beautifully crafted, and however intricate some may become, the best follow a simple trajectory: a young man falls in love with a prostitute; an uncle takes on a mistress; a daughter fights to free herself from her mother. In a single collection, readers will feel as though they’ve traveled the world—settings circle the globe from South Africa to Scotland to Egypt to India to—of course—the Good Old U.S. of A. No matter where these stories are set, they have one thing in common. They bridge the gap between the individual and the community, as juror Anthony Doerr explains. “Writing stories,” says Doerr, “is not…about spending lots of time with oneself. It’s about learning to be able to look beyond the self, beyond the ego, to enter other lives and other worlds. It’s about honing one’s sense of empathy so that a story might bridge the gap between the personal and the communal.” Each of these stories has its own way of showing us what it means to belong to the whole.

Historically, the best of the best appears in this collection. Essays are selected from previous year’s submissions of more than two hundred literary publications. This year’s jurors—A.S. Byatt, Tim O’Brien, and Anthony Doerr—comment on their top choice, and each of the writers offers a bit about his or her writing and its inspiration.

Click here to read my more formal-type review of this book on the About.com Contemporary Literature site.

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