Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

"The PEN/O.Henry Prize Stories 2011" by Laura Furman (ed) (Anchor Books, 2011)

I've heard about this series but haven't seen a book before. Like Best American Short Stories it has 20 stories with authors' notes. Unlike BASS (where the series editor picks 300 stories from which the editor, who changes each year, make a final selection), these stories are chosen by the series editor (unchanged since 2003). Online-only stories weren't considered. Only 3 magazines had more than 1 story selected - Ecotone (2), Paris Review (2) and Kenyon Review (3).

Several stories (4 of the first 6?) were set abroad. Kenneth Calhoun's "Nightblooming" wasn't. It began well, and wasn't bad all through. Both the Helen Simpson and Tamas Dobozy stories left me dry. Jennine Capo Crucet's story was 2nd-person yet it didn't grate. David Means' "The Junction" immediately impressed me.

Susan Minot's story contains this cluttered sentence - "Edmond nodded, though Daisy could see his attention was already being pulled toward the boys, though it was unclear whether he wished to check if they were okay, or to continue the punishment"

I liked Jane Delury's piece. Adam Foulds' "The Rules Are the Rules" was lively enough - "A remnant of foam still stood over the plughole, whispering away to nothing" (p.203). Leslie Parry's "The Vanishing American" was stylistically interesting. Lori Ostlund's "Bed Death" had several similes

  • he paused before replying, "Ah yes, Mani," the way that one would refer to laundry on the line several minutes after it had begun to rain, p.248
  • the entire family standing with a quiet air of expectation as though watching an empty cage at the zoo, p.249
  • commenting on how much taller [the building] was than everything around it and how this made it seem awkward and defenseless, like a young girl who had shot up much faster than her classmates, p.258

Freed's "Sunshine" (about exploited, feral girls) didn't appeal. Tallent's "Never come back" was plotty and at times predictable, though it was also eventful and readable. In Null's "Something You Can't Live Without" the narrator's a traveling salesman (a "drummer" in the States), going around farms in the days of passenger pigeons, but he gets killed before the story's end. Not really enough for its 20 pages.

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