Title: The O. Henry Prize Stories 2015
Editor: Laura Furman
Age Group: Adult
Genre: Short Story Collection
Star Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars
This book was given to me by the publisher, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review--thank you so much!
Lately, though I love novels as much as the next girl, I've been craving collections of short stories. There's just something so lovely to me, about an author that can create a tiny world in the span of only a few pages. It's been a talent I've always craved and wanted, and it never fails to enthrall me entirely. Another bonus with short story collections such as this one? There's always an opportunity to find new authors, to read new work later. In short, this short story collection was absolutely fantastic, in fact, so much so that it deserves a gif of Jack Frost:
Overall, this collection is worth all five stars, but the OCD tendencies in me demand that I review and rate each story at a time, so here goes:
Finding Billy Whitefeather by Percival Everett: 3.5 out of 5 stars. The first story in the collection, this story was slightly confusing; the main character finds a mysterious note about a pair of horses for sale from the mysterious and elusive Billy Whitefeather. A serious musing about the threat of not knowing one's neighbors, I liked the story, even though it was slightly hard to follow.
The Seals by Lydia Davis: 5 out of 5 stars. A musing and thoughtful story on the impact of grief, from the point of view of a sister, mourning the loss of her sister, who more or less raised her, and remembering their sometimes tumultuous relationship. I really enjoyed this story--it was wistful, sad, and sweet, gentle and wonderful, as the narrator ponders if she ever really knew her sister at all.
Kilifi Creek by Lionel Shriver: 4 out of 5 stars. For the most part, I enjoyed this story. The writing was beautiful, if a little heavy-headed. There were a lot of big words that I didn't quite understand, but what made this story for me was the character, someone in her early twenties who makes a habit of flirting with disaster, and takes it too far. (I'd already been planning to look into We Need to Talk About Kevin, and this just spurs me further.)
The Happiest Girl in the Whole USA by Manuel Munoz: 5 out of 5 stars. This story was wonderful, both a rumination on the consequences and lives of being an immigrant in this country, even in this day and age. Two women, one old, one young, one weary with the routine and the other just coming in to the ways of this crazy life, in the middle of bustling Los Angeles. I really liked this story, but what really made it shine, for me, was the relationship between the two women central to the story.
A Permanent Member of the Family by Russell Banks: 5 out of 5 stars. This story, among others, vies for my favorite of the whole collection. A sad tale of a divorce, (well, actually, multiple divorces) the shattering of a family, and a loss that is nearly insurmountable. God, this story. It was brutal, beautiful, and tender, told with a gentle hand despite the heavy subject matter. Will be looking into this author's work immediately.
A Ride out of Phrao by Dina Nayeri: 4 out of 5 stars. This is one of the few authors that was familiar to me, and this tale, of travel, Thailand, the often tempestuous relationship between a mother and her daughter, was, at times, almost painful to read. Regardless, despite the narrative being slightly confusing at times, I really enjoyed it. Wonderful!
Owl by Emily Ruskovich: 5 out of 5 stars. Yet another contender for my favorite story of the collection, this tale of shapeshifters, infidelity, a husband's suspicion, and thieving young men, with gorgeous prose and flesh and blood characters, this story of secrets and darkness completely captured my imagination. As with Banks, I will be looking into more of this author's work as soon as possible.
The Upside Down World by Becky Hagenston: 2 out of 5 stars. This story was confusing and hard to follow, and the plot and the moral of the story wasn't very clear. It was just 'meh'.
The Way Things are Going by Lynn Freed: 4 out of 5 stars. A thoughtful story on the power of change, as well as apathy. The two characters in this lovely, well-thought out story were ones that were flawed and I really related to them a lot.
The History of Happiness by Brenda Peynado: 3.5 out of 5 stars. Kind of confusing and odd, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
The Kingsley Drive Chorus by Naira Kuzmich: 5 out of 5 stars. This story, yet another contender for my favorite story of the collection, was an unabashed, glaringly honest portrait of the relationship between mothers and sons. This story took my heart and stomped on it. It was painful, beautiful, and real--a triumph of short fiction. Amazing!
Word of Mouth by Emma Torzs: 4 out of 5 stars. An entertaining, slightly scary romp about a barbeque restaurant doomed for failure, and a man who seeks out facts, despite the characters of the story being frightened of him. Beautiful prose, odd plot, but wonderful.
Cabins by Christopher Merkner: 5 out of 5 stars. A wonderfully entertaining and gentle story about the trials of marriage, and wanting to be a separate person from your spouse. The main character dreams of solitude and peace in a cabin in the woods, and, though thinking of them, discovers they are empty. A worthy musing of marriage, identity, and what peace and fulfillment really is. Wonderful!
My Grandmother Tells Me This Story by Molly Antopol: 5 out of 5 stars. This story was definitely one of my favorites, if not the favorite of the whole bunch. A granddaughter sits with her grandmother on a hot, sunny day, and learns of the other woman's sacrifices, as well as the beginning of her relationship with her grandfather, in war torn Poland. One of my very favorite pieces of fiction, of all time!
The Golden Rule by Lynne Sharon Schwartz: 4.5 out of 5 stars. A tale of neighbors, and what it really means to have respect, and love, for another person, even in times of trouble. I really enjoyed this story, not just because of its theme, the reverence with which we are expected to show to the older generation. But what happens when that person, who you counted on, disappears? Wonderful.
About My Aunt by Joan Silber: 5 out of 5 stars. The narrator's relationship with her aunt, at times rocky and fraught with problems, at others, full of love and understanding, takes the stage in this story of family bonds. It was at turns, funny and scary and deep, and I enjoyed it--really wonderful. I loved the characters!
Ba Baboon by Thomas Pierce: 4.5 out of 5 stars. This was really the most humorous piece of fiction in the collection. A pair of siblings break into an ex's home to retrieve a taboo sex tape, and the ex's fierce guard dogs collide with them: hilarity ensues, and in doing so, their familial bond deepens. I loved that the author took somewhat heavy subject matter and made it humorous.
Snow Blind by Elizabeth Strout: 5 out of 5 stars. God, this story was heavy. But it was also beautiful, and terrifying. A young girl finds peace and solitude in the forest, and ends up inadvertently revealing a secret that tears her entire family apart. I loved this story, and I honestly cannot wait until I can look into more of Strout's work!
I, Buffalo by Vauhini Vara: 4.5 out of 5 stars. I really liked this story, where the narrator is fascinated with the buffalo that frolic around the land on which she lives through college. I really liked this story because it was central to the narrator connecting with nature.
Birdsong from the Radio by Elizabeth McCracken: 5 out of 5 stars. Yet another contender for my favorite of the volume. This story tells the tale of a mother, Leonora, who wants nothing more than to gobble up her children. I really enjoyed this story, for its fairy tale elements, the ending, and the way monsters were handled. Amazing!
This story collection is a must-have for those of you who love words and stories--a triumph in the fickle art of fiction writing! I loved almost every single one of these stories, meant to be savored and enjoyed bit by wonderful bit! Next on deck: Unteachable by Leah Raeder!