Tiny Pants's Reviews > Prize Stories, the Best of 1998: The O. Henry Awards

Prize Stories, the Best of 1998 by Larry Dark
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's review
Jan 06, 2010

it was ok
bookshelves: fiction, series, short-stories
Read from March 09, 2010 to January 27, 2011 — I own a copy

I know. A year plus later, I finally picked up and finished this collection. I think after reading that Amy Bloom book, I thought, you know what, I can still read literary fiction. Finishing this made me remember though that I just don't enjoy it the way I used to. In fact, I'm not sure what I used to enjoy about it so much.

Did I just used to enjoy misery a lot more? Or at least, reading about the misery of others? Lord knows it wasn't reading about Montana that I enjoyed. Note to lit-fic authors: No one gives that much of a rat's about Montana. It's not that interesting. You need to drop it. Viz. the Rick Bass story in this compilation ("The Myths of Bears") which I swore I had read before, but it turned out no, I had read a different story that was about a hermit, his wife, and surviving in the snow. And you know what? They both pretty much sucked. Similarly, I could have sworn I had read D.R. McDonald's "Ashes" before, but it was another one where no, I had just read a really similar story about an old man attempting to defend a piece of land he feels he has blood ties to, even if he no longer is legally bound to it.

Maybe I'm devolving. Maybe my taste for sugary YA fiction has made me less mature. But at the same time, maybe spending all this time reading YA series and the like -- where repetitiveness is somewhat integral to the genre -- has made me more aware of the tedious tropes of literary fiction. I mean, these people act like they're inventing something new, artistic, elevated, and good. But really, I feel like you know what, let's just write one ultimate literary short story -- something where a rural Montana wife who has recently immigrated from India feels guilty about her infidelity toward her husband, but she is just having a hard time dealing with their child's terminal illness and, oh yeah, their dog just died. Violently.

See what I mean? It just gets old. I had high hopes for this O. Henry when I bought it, thinking that it was just that I wasn't liking recent literary short fiction, but that if I went back to older stuff, from when I knew I really enjoyed it, I'd be pleasantly surprised. In short (as if it weren't blatantly clear at this point) I wasn't. The high points of this collection were obvious, and were fairly well-known and widely-anthologized stories I had read before -- Lorrie Moore's always heartbreaking "People Like That Are the Only People Here," and Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain" (yes, the basis for the movie). Even the piece by Thom Jones ("Tarantula"), who I usually like, was singularly unpleasant. Long story short, this may be it for me and the O. Henry Prize Stories, which is a bummer, because I know that somehow, for some reason, I used to really enjoy reading these each year.

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