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The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008

by Laura Furman (Editor)

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The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008
William Sidney Porter (1862-1910), who wrote under the name of O.Henry, led an eclectic professional life. Pharmacist, draftsman, bank teller, and magazine publisher, Porter began writing earnestly only after he landed in a federal penitentiary on embezzlement charges. Still, he managed to write some 400 short stories in his lifetime and is credited with popularizing the form. Eight years after O. Henry's death, his friends established an award in his name, and Doubleday, Page & Co. published the first volume of the O. Henry Memorial Award Prize Stories in 1919. Since then, publishing rights have changed hands and the methods of selection have varied, but like its forbears, The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008 collects some of the finest short prose available.

Each year, magazine editors submit entire issues of their publications to the O. Henry Prize Stories series editor, who reads through the multitudinous works of short fiction and chooses just twenty stories to be included in the collection. The editor then forwards the twenty stories in manuscript form to three jurors who independently read each of the stories without knowledge of the works' authors or the publications in which they appeared. The jurors each select a favorite and write a short essay about their choice. These essays are also included in the collection.
Reviewing the individual works in The O. Henry Prize Stories 2008 would be somewhat redundant. The collection has an extensively proven track record (89 years) in the selection of terrific short prose, and the pieces in the 2008 volume uphold that reputation. In her choices, series editor Laura Furman casts a wide net with respect to setting, narration, characters, etc. Some are the work of well-known writers - Alice Munro, Ha Jin, Edward P. Jones, Mary Gaitskill - others come from relative newcomers. My favorites among this year's stories include

"Village 113"
Anthony Doerr, an author well known for his attention to the natural world, reimagines China's Three Gorges Dam project, in which villages were flooded and millions of residents displaced, through the eyes of his narrator, known simply as "the seed keeper."

"The Necessity of Certain Behaviors"
In Shannon Cain's story, which first appeared in the New England Review, a woman's separation from her eco-tourism group lands her in a remote village in which she finds the rules of society and intimacy more appealing than those of her own world.
"A Composer and His Parakeets"
Ha Jin spins a tale in which a Chinese-American musician learns something about love and artistic inspiration from his girlfriend's parakeet.

"A Change in Fashion"
Steven Millhauser's sardonic entry seems less of a story and more of an article clipped out of a fashion magazine from the future. "A Change in Fashion" employs no actual characters in describing the "Age of Concealment," a period during which young women's fashion took a drastic (and rather humorous) turn.

Published with the goal of strengthening the art of the short story, The O. Henry Prize Stories continues to distill some of the finest short fiction available. Included commentary by the writers' on their work as well as the essays by the jurors' on their favorites make this book an annual must-have for short fiction lovers.

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