Review: The O. Henry Prize Stories of 2018 [3★]

The twenty stories bound together in The O. Henry Prize Stories for 2018 are also bound by some common characteristics, although they span a wide variety of settings, themes, and lengths. The stories are similarly peculiar and haunting, leaving indelible imprints on their readers, and often, a melancholy ache in their chests.

Short stories as an art form are so different from novel-length works. Rather than a story with beginning, middle, and end, short stories are often mere snapshots of a time, a place, a person. I find they are often very evocative, jarring, and intimate… even downright disturbing at times. There is often no satisfying conclusion to a short story, at least, not in the same way there is in a novel. 

I don’t tend to enjoy short stories as much as I do novels. I often find short fiction evocative, jarring, and intimate. However, short stories often lack the coherence and conclusivity of novel-length works.  I like to watch strong character development and compelling plot progression in elaborately detailed settings. Short stories often leave me feeling empty and wanting. 

The O. Henry Prize Stories of 2018 did indeed leave with a sense of incompletion, but several of the stories also moved me and stamped images in my mind that I still cannot shake, weeks and months after I read some of them. 

Some of my favorite pieces included The Tomb of Wrestling, in which a woman battles an attacker in her home, Nights in Logar, about an American boy visiting his extended family in Afghanistan, and Queen Elizabeth, about a couple whose love struggles to survive the devastation of child loss. Each of these stories, and a few others, was beautifully written, and they impressed me with experiences and emotions that were terribly human and empathetic. 

Other stories in the book, such as Past Perfect Continuous, Inversion of Marcia, and The Stamp Collector instead left a sour feeling in my gut. They were jarring and intimate indeed, to the point of vulgarity. I also found them difficult to interpret and struggled to find the meaning or purpose behind the stories. 

Obviously, any collection of short stories will be full of variety, and each story merits its own individual rating. I could span the range from zero to five stars in my evaluation of these stories, some I wish I’d never read, and some which I will gladly remember for a long time to come.

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