Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014’ |

Aspen Times Weekly book review: ‘The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014’

by Andrew Travers

‘The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014’

Laura Furman (editor)

416 pages, $15.95

Anchor Books

Last summer, New Orleans writer Allison Alsup was among the crowd at the Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s Summer Words literary retreat, workshopping her short story “Old Houses.”

The contemporary gothic tale about a just-so Bay Area neighborhood and a recent past that haunts its manicured homes was later published in the New Orleans Review, and earlier this year won an O. Henry Award. Coming in at little more than four pages, it’s an eerie, economical mood piece that packs a wallop while peeling back the smug exterior of Hillcrest’s “houses that know who they are.”

It’s now collected, along with the rest of this year’s O. Henry winners, in “The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014,” edited by Laura Furman. The anthology showcases emerging fiction writers to keep your eye on, like Alsup, alongside well-established masters of the form, such as William Trevor and Louise Erdrich.

Some highlights include Mark Haddon’s gorgeously crafted, disturbing story of childhood and violence, “The Gun” (originally published in Granta), and Kristen Iskandrian’s darkly humorous “The Inheritors” (from Tin House). The stories here are an irreverent, diverse mix — there’s something for everyone in these pages.

Along with 20 excellent stories, it includes short essays by the writers about their work, and from the O. Henry jurors on their favorites.

Anytime I go to a book festival or talk to someone from the publishing industry, I’m reminded that small literary magazines are the lifeblood of serious fiction in America — and I always feel a little guilty about not supporting them more. This collection likewise makes an excellent case for publications like Tin House, Narrative, and the Threepenny Review, simply by highlighting the caliber of stories you can find in them.

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