Established early in the last century as a memorial to O. Henry, throughout its history this annual collection has consistently offered a remarkable sampling of contemporary short stories. Each year, stories are chosen from large and small literary magazines, and a panel of distinguished writers is enlisted to award top prizes.
In a collection boasting the wide range of writers and themes that has come to be expected of the O. Henry Awards, the biggest news might be the comeback of the New Yorker as magazine of the year. With only one story from the magazine making the cut last year, this time it boasts five of the winning selections and several more on the short list. This may reflect editor Larry Dark's wish that short stories reach a broader audience, and indeed many readers will be familiar with the New Yorker winners, ranging from selections by such well-known favorites as Alice Munro and Louise Erdrich to a story by newcomer David Schickler, whose surreal and wacky urban romance, "The Smoker," was released as part of a well-received collection this year. The first-prize story, "The Deep" by relative unknown Mary Swan, is a haunting historical piece about twins during WWI. Andrea Barrett makes an appearance with "Servants of the Map," about a cartographer working in the Himalayas in the 1860s. There are moody contemporary pieces by Fred G. Leebron, Elizabeth Graver and Ron Carlson; chilling, crime-oriented stories from William Gay, Dale Peck, T. Coraghessan Boyle and Joyce Carol Oates; and a wry, comic, three-girls-and-a-guy morality play from Antonya Nelson. Those favoring an alternative point of view can dip into George Saunders's "Pastoralia" or second-prize winner Dan Chaon's hilarious "Big Me," and Murad Kalam and Pinckney Benedict serve up two very different visions of the future. As always, there will be debate about who should or should not have been included, but judges Mary Gordon, Michael Chabon and Mona Simpson have proffered an engrossing collection proving that talent and imagination are aliveand thriving in the American short story. National advertising. (Sept. 4) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.