WRITING AT ITS BEST: The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014


The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014
Laura Furman, Editor
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2014.
416 pages, $18.95.

The O. Henry Prize Stories 2014 showcases twenty stand-out stories that first appeared in prominent literary magazines. They were selected by a jury of accomplished authors: Tash Aw, James Lasdun, and Joan Sibler. Although these well-crafted stories have different styles, plots, and themes, they all feature vivid characters that drawn the reader in. Among these characters, you’ll meet troubled teenage girls in the midst of a robbery, a lonely widower in search of a friendly ear, and a young boy grappling for a new life in his grandfather’s home.

I savoured these stories. I was entranced by nearly all of them.  There were four or five stories that shook my core, including “The Gun”, “Opa-Locka”, and “Trust”. The one that resonated most, the one that I will revisit time and time again: “Nemecia”.

“Nemecia” by Kirstin Valdez Quade

Maria recounts the story of how her cousin Nemecia terrorized her as a child. Teenage Nemecia was abusive towards 6-year-old Maria. The older cousin always broke Maria’s new toys. She also scarred her smooth cheek when her own became riddled with acne. Worst of all, Nemecia told lies that terrified Maria, who believed every word: “I was afraid of Nemecia because I knew her greatest secret: when she was five, she put her mother in a coma and killed our grandfather.” The adults in Maria’s family withheld the truth from little girl, including her mother who claimed, “You’re lucky, Maria, to have been born after that day. You’re untouched. The rest of us will never forget it, but you, mi hijita, and the twins, are untouched.” Not knowing the truth about the dark family secret, Maria clings to the horrifying, murderous image of her abuser. This fear is mingled with Maria’s feelings of closeness and admiration for Nemecia, adding a whole other dimension to their flawed relationship.

Quade’s choice of first person narrator for this story is effective. The revelations of a grown-up Maria —who shares her story through flashbacks when manipulating timeworn photographs or an old, broken doll— help the reader better understand the cousins’ relationship. Some of us, like Maria, try finding closure or understanding by revisiting our pasts. Others, like Nemecia, run away from our pasts by reinventing ourselves time and time again. I was drawn into Maria and Nemecia’s world from the start. Though the mystery of an untold family tragedy pique my interest, it was the real, tortured relationship of the girls that kept me turning the pages.

Read the complete list of stories in this compilation:

Allison Alsup, “Old Houses,” New Orleans Review
Chanelle Benz, “West of the Known,” The American Reader
David Bradley, “You Remember The Pin Mill,” Narrative
Olivia Clare, “Pétur,” Ecotone Mark Haddon, “The Gun,” Granta
Stephen Dixon, “Talk,” The American Reader
Halina Duraj, “Fatherland,” Harvard Review
Louise Erdrich, “Nero,” The New Yorker
Mark Haddon, “The Gun,” Granta
Rebecca Hirsch Garcia, “A Golden Light,” Threepenny Review
Kristen Iskandrian, “The Inheritors,” Tin House 
Tessa Hadley, “Valentine,” The New Yorker
Dylan Landis, “Trust,” Tin House
Colleen Morrissey, “Good Faith,” The Cincinnati Review
Chinelo Okparanta, “Fairness,” Subtropics
Michael Parker, “Deep Eddy,” Southwest Review
Robert Anthony Siegel, “The Right Imaginary Person,” Tin House
Maura Stanton, “Oh Shenandoah,” New England Review
William Trevor, “The Women,” The New Yorker
Kirstin Valdez Quade, “Nemecia,” Narrativemagazine.com
Laura van den Berg, “Opa-Locka,” The Southern Review

I particularity liked the insightful essays from the jurors analyzing their favorite stories. Also, the comprehensive list of literary magazines at the end of the book is fantastic. I discovered several publications and then checked out their websites.

If you enjoy reading short stories, by all means, grab a copy of this book. There are stories to please every taste.

*I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.*


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