Named after the famous author who excelled at the form, The O. Henry Award is given to the best English short stories published in U.S. and Canadian magazines. The process begins with author Laura Furman, who has been the series editor since 2003, selecting twenty. The stories are then submitted without identification to each member of the three-person jury who make their choices independently. This year’s jury was comprised of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, David Leavitt, and David Means, and their respective favorite choices were “Touch” by Alexi Zentner, “What Do You Want to Know For?” by Alice Munro, and “Folie à Deux” by William Trevor. The latter two authors are previous jury favorites: Munro in 2006 and Trevor in 2007. The jurors provide comments on their selections, and the twenty authors reflect on the their work, both of which are included at the back of the book.
The stories are marvelously diverse adventures that take the reader to different locales across the globe and introduce them to different people. In New York, Fanlin from “A Composer And His Parakeets” deals with his girlfriend’s pet while she is away shooting a movie. In France, Claire from “The Transitional Object” is a seventeen-year-old student studying abroad, learning about the ways of the world as she negotiates a better grade with her lascivious professor. In Iceland, Oskar is constantly undone by his ego with nearly deadly results. The authors create compelling situations for the characters to maneuver through with varying degrees of success.
Understandably, everyone isn’t going to enjoy every story. Matter of fact, I disagree with two of the judges choices. Although well written, I found many others to be much more engaging; however, all are worth investigating because in each story, the authors create worlds and surroundings worthy of being experienced from the comfortable distance of their imagination. Even though sight is the only sense being used in the endeavor, the words stimulate all the reader’s senses.
The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008 is a refreshing reminder of how glorious the written word can be in the hands of those who put some thought into its use. In an age where technology allows everyone a chance to be read, it’s easy to forget that not everyone should be. Collected here in this trade paperback are 20 stories that exhibit authors who care about what they write, and put thought and effort into the endeavor. It’s an inspiration to readers and writers alike.