The O. Henry Prize Stories 2017 contains twenty breathtaking stories-by a vibrant mix of established and emerging writers-selected by the series editor from the thousands published in literary magazines over the previous year. The collection includes essays by the three eminent guest jurors on their favorite stories, observations from the winning writers on what inspired them, and a comprehensive resource list of the many magazines and journals, both large and small, that publish short fiction. The jurors this year are David Bradley, Elizabeth McCracken, and Brad Watson.For author interviews, photos, and more, go to
Series editor LAURA FURMAN's work has appeared in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Ploughshares, The Yale Review, and other magazines. She is the founding editor of the highly regarded American Short Fiction (three-time finalist for the American Magazine Award). A former professor at the University of Texas, she lives in Austin. JUROR BIOS- DAVID BRADLEY teaches at the University of Oregon and is the author of The Chaneysville Incident, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and a finalist for the National Book Award. ELIZABETH MCCRACKEN, is the author of Thunderstruck and National Book Award finalist The Giant's House. She teaches at the University of Texas, Austin, and has received awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Guggenheim Foundation. BRAD WATSON teaches at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. His novel The Heaven of Mercury was a finalist for the National Book Award, and his Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award.
Introduction by Laura Furman, Series Editor "Too Good To Be True," Michelle Huneven "Something for a Young Woman," Genevieve Plunkett "The Buddhist," Alan Rossi "Garments," Tahmima Anam "Protection," Paola Peroni "Night Garden," Shruti Swamy "A Cruelty," Kevin Barry "Floating Garden," Mary La Chapelle "The Trusted Traveler," Joseph O'Neill "Blue Dot," Keith Eisner "Lion," Wil Weitzel "Paddle to Canada," Heather Monley "A Small Sacrifice for an Enormous Happiness," Jai Chakrabarti "The Bride and the Street Party," Kate Cayley "Secret Lives of the Detainees," Amit Majmudar "Glory," Lesley Nneka Arimah "Mercedes Benz," Martha Cooley "The Reason Is Because," Manuel Mu
"Widely regarded as the nation's most presitigious awards for short fiction." --The Atlantic Monthly
"Widely regarded as the nation's most presitigious awards for short fiction." -- The Atlantic Monthly
Introduction by Laura Furman In the summer of 1917, the artist Vanessa Bell read "The Mark on the Wall," a short story by her sister Virginia Woolf that appeared in the first publication from the Hogarth Press, recently founded by Woolf and her husband, Leonard. "Why don''t you write more short things," Vanessa wrote to Virginia, suggesting that "there is a kind of completeness about a thing like this that is very satisfactory and that you can hardly get in a novel." Virginia Woolf sought her older sister''s artistic approval always. Still, I wonder if the future author of a great novel like Mrs. Dalloway really needed to be urged to favor the short story over the novel as better suited to her talents. A novel''s charm can lie in discursiveness and its richness in variety, while taking highways and byways can ruin a story. If you think of the novel and the story as containers holding images, characters, relationships, and settings, what makes a stark novel might be an overstuffed story. So many years after Vanessa Bell''s note to her sister, it remains easier to say what a short story isn''t than what it is: it isn''t an anecdote and it isn''t a section of a novel and it isn''t an essay. Short stories sometimes end ambiguously, but they can''t end indefinitely and still be a complete story. Short-story endings are sometimes a sore point with readers, who feel they''ve 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. Even when I don''t understand the meaning and stretch of an ending, if I don''t feel the same finality that I do when someone walks out the door, then something''s gone wrong. Short-story beginnings are even more demanding of writer and reader. The reader must be immediately involved. This doesn''t 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. The beginning and the ending of a short story are part of the wonderful secret of the form and why it''s neither a novel nor a novella nor a footnote nor an anecdote. The short story has a formal completeness--Vanessa Bell chose exactly the right word--but one that doesn''t call attention to itself. The story''s present, its ongoing action, and its past--call it background or ghosts--sometimes push against each other. Sometimes the past sneaks in front of the present and tries to block the way forward. But in stories by master writers--Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Katherine Anne Porter, William Trevor--there is always a path to follow through the deep forest of the fictional world. A story that begins by retreating into the past has the cart before the horse. In a good beginning, the reader is right there in the story''s world, in the present, and when the past comes lurching from behind, the reader knows the difference between now and then. More and more, short-story writers give little weight to characters'' past, to pedigree, to war stories. Yet time is such a powerful force in the short story that even if we don''t know the specifics of a character''s background, we know something of the burden of the character''s past by the way he or she acts and reacts in the present. In the short story there''s always a shadow cast on the present by what has just been said or not said, by what was imagined but not accomplished, or even by a wish. While the plot develops, past and present wrangle, and the characters struggle against that tension. At the end, there''s the peace that comes with the release of tension, for good or ill. The greatest success comes when the writer''s skill permits the reader to ride on the narrative current without noticing form or technique. Michelle Huneven''s "Too Good to Be True" is such a story. For the parents of Gayle, a junkie in recovery, the past is all about their young daughter''s alcoholism and drug addiction. Their housekeeper and friend, Harriet, is herself in recovery and sees Gayle through that lens. Gayle has tried and failed at sobriety before, disappearing into the depraved existence that she describes cheerfully to Harriet on their way to support-group meetings, pointing from the car to a place where she once had sex with a dentist in exchange for pain meds, or where she did worse things--a tour of Gayle''s own private Pasadena. She''s become a jaunty expert on meetings. " ''I like N.A.,'' Gayle says, ''because people there get paranoia. They''ve done enough illegal stuff, and have the arrests to show for it. I mean, their paranoia is earned . . . . But A.A.''s more fun.'' " The trio of imperfectly loving adults watch Gayle like hawks, simultaneously wanting to trust her and to preserve themselves from repeated heartbreak. They think they know the future because they''ve lived through the past. In time, the reader sees that they''re blinded to the present, for the ending of "Too Good to Be True" exposes their conspiracy of hope and despair. The future is unknown, Huneven shows us, whatever the past. Juror David Bradley chose "Too Good to Be True" as his favorite. A similar collusion between hope and despair appears in the very different circumstances of Tahmima Anam''s "Garments," set against the grisly garment trade of Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh. The workers in "Garments" are young women who''ve come to the city to make something of their lives. It''s hard for the Western reader to understand that sewing slimming undergarments for women who are overfed to a degree far beyond the workers'' experience can be a tenable path to advancement. Pressured to meet their quotas of finished garments, working in unventilated heat, three young women are willing to marry an unknown man because his gender will give them a tiny boost of social power--the ability to rent a living space for themselves. For those of us whose grandparents or great-grandparents worked in similar conditions in nineteenth-and twentieth-century America, the story has a special resonance, but for any reader, the young women''s dreams are moving in their audacity and the high price paid for their fulfillment. The Dalai Lama said in November 2016 that compassion is only felt between equals. In order to respond to the story with compassion, the reader must feel herself the equal of the story''s heroines. Alan Rossi''s "The Buddhist" is about a monk, ill with an unnamed and debilitating disease in a monastery in Sri Lanka, who is determined to continue as normal. He must at all times pay strict attention in the Theravada Forest tradition. He was "not shirking his dharma-related responsibilities, was not skipping meditation, was not failing to practice in each and every moment." While he prepares for a Skype tutorial session with an American student, we learn something of his personal pressures. He is Canadian by birth and has been ordered by Ajahn, the leader, to return home, which above all he doesn''t want to do. Though he strains to concentrate on the present, he can''t resist reliving his past failures and desires. He counts the ways in which he now considers himself unsuited to be back home with his family and old friends. He is no longer who he was: he has his daily practice and his devotion to the Buddhist tradition he''s chosen; this--and escape from Canada--is all he wants. Alan Rossi balances the pain of his story with the inevitable comedy of the monk trying to be only in the present while his mind wanders through past and future. He struggles to perform what he sees as his dharma duties while the reader comes to know his troubled heart. Throughout the story, illness presses on the monk and the narrative until nothing is left but fever and dream. Amit Majmudar''s "Secret Lives of the Detainees" is another story in which the deadly serious--in this case torture and illegal detention--mixes with the comic. "Secret Lives" sounds lightly humorous here but "detainees" doesn''t at all. Majmudar''s first detainee is Ansar, who is frustrating his interrogators. Their techniques can''t compete with the pain he is suffering from kidney stones. Ansar despises the Western doctors who work with the interrogators: Ansar had never been treated so kindly by other men in his life. White men, the old ones with silver, the young ones with light-brown hair. Their kindness interfered with his hating of them. He had to remind himself: they are saving you to pass you on. They are fixing you so there is something to break. The next detainee, Marwan Malik, also experiences constant torture inflicted by his own body, in his case by the restlessness of his hands, which are happy only when they are repairing or making something. It doesn''t matter to them what it is : "Tasks are their food." The third detainee is Nadeem Nadeem, who has been imprisoned in err∨ he must inflict harm on his body before he can be liberated. The comedy pertains both to prisoners and torturers. Each believes the other''s lies. Neither side is able to feel compassion for the other''s pain, whether inflicted or self-inflicted. "Secret Lives of the Detainees" is Elizabeth McCracken''s favorite. In Mary LaChapelle''s "Floating Garden," the reader immediately feels suspicion and dread. After a festival, people are lined up for their rides home. An army truck is labeled "taxi," and, oddly, women are being ushered into the truck ahead of men. It''s explained that there''s no room in that taxi for men, but why not? The answer can''t be heard. The narrator''s mother climbs into the truck first, then turns to receive wooden statues
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