The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005

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The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005

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Overview

Mudlavia
Elizabeth Stuckey-French

The Brief History of the Dead
Kevin Brockmeier

The Golden Era of Heartbreak
Michael Parker

The Hurt Man
Wendell Berry

The Tutor
Nell Freudenberger

Fantasy for Eleven Fingers
Ben Fountain

The High Divide
Charles D’Ambrosio

Desolation
Gail Jones

A Rich Man
Edward P. Jones

Dues
Dale Peck

Speckle Trout
Ron Rash

Sphinxes
Timothy Crouse

Grace
Paula Fox

Snowbound
Liza Ward

Tea
Nancy Reisman

Christie
Caitlin Macy

Refuge in London
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala

The Drowned Woman
Frances De Pontes Peebles

The Card Trick
Tessa Hadley

What You Pawn I Will Redeem
Sherman Alexie

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Widely regarded as the nation’s most prestigious awards for short fiction.” --The Atlantic Monthly
Publishers Weekly
Whether culled from literary journals or glossier publications, the stories included in this year's O. Henry collection tend toward the polished, dense and emotionally complex. The best entries also add a burst of something brighter: a strong narrative voice, inventiveness or sheer exuberance. Among the standouts is Kevin Brockmeier's "A Short History of the Dead," which offers a brief but compelling take on mortality as the dead remember the final events of their lives while passing through a way station "city" before they move on to their ultimate afterlife destination. Sherman Alexie's poignant "What You Pawn I Will Redeem" follows an alcoholic, homeless Native American who finds his grandmother's tribal regalia in a Seattle pawnshop and embarks on a quixotic quest to recover his legacy. And Ron Rash's sardonic "Speckled Trout" describes an unfortunate incident in which a brash young thief briefly makes a killing when he stumbles into a hidden stash of marijuana plants, only to have the owner turn the tables by planting a bear trap near his prized crop. Much of the rest of the collection is noticeably monochromatic, with stories that revolve dutifully around relationships, exile and loneliness. Though points are scored for accomplished prose and thoughtful conceits, what's missing are entries driven by humor, dialogue and riskier, more unconventional storytelling. (Jan.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Furman and guest editors Christina Garcia, Ann Patchett, and Richard Russo have put together a stellar group of 20 for the anthology's 85th outing. The stories range in style and tone from Kevin Brockmeier's "The Brief History of the Dead," a hauntingly apocalyptic miniature about the emptying out of a mysterious city where people go when they die, to Michael Parker's noirish "The Golden Era of Heartbreak," which pushes the jilted lover cliche into new territory. Standouts include Elizabeth Stuckey-French's "Mudlavia," a coming-of-ager set at a health spa in the summer of 1916; Ruth Prawar Jhabvala's "Refuge in London," about a young girl who, in the late 1930s, sits for a celebrated artist in a German refugee community in London; Nancy Reisman's richly textured "Tea," about a doomed affair between a romantic young woman and a married man in 1927; and Liza Ward's "Snowbound," about a young girl's wise assessment of the adults in her life. There are a few disappointments, however. Dale Peck's convoluted "Dues" takes on a promising urban theme-a creeping dread that "life was just a series of borrowed items, redundant actions, at best repetitions, at worse theft"-as experienced by a man who buys a stolen bike and is discovered and beaten by its owner. But the piece is too convoluted and contrived to nail it. And Timothy Crouse's "Sphinxes," about the relationship between a piano teacher and three of his students, is too lengthy for its own good. Guest Editor Patchett notes that in "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," Sherman Alexie "steps aside to let his character have every inch of the stage," and his Spokane Indian narrator is indeed winning. In all, a first-rate sampler of the best from thelittle magazines (The Georgia Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The Oxford American, Zoeotrope, Granta) as well as the more commercial (The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly).
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400076543
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/4/2005
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 416
  • Sales rank: 1,248,185
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Laura Furman
Novelist and short story writer Laura Furman began editing the O. Henry Prize Stories with the 2003 edition. She teaches at the University of Texas at Austin and lives in Austin. Cristina García's latest novel is Monkey Hunting. She lives in Los Angeles. Ann Patchett's most recent book is Truth and Beauty. She lives in Tennessee. Richard Russo's most recent books are the Pulitzer Prize winner Empire Falls and the short story collection The Whore's Child. He lives in Maine.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt

Introduction

In the work of Anton Chekhov, to whom The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005 is dedicated, one feels a force as powerful as a hurricane moving toward his characters. His knowledge from a young age that he had a terminal illness may account for some of this, but he was also sensitive to the gathering political storm in Russia. The 1905 revolution broke out within six months of his death. Writers and other artists respond to the same political and societal pressures as everybody else. Some explicitly use a political figure or an overwhelming event such as the Vietnam War in their art. Others are engaged by the public tensions of their time without any direct reference to current events.

The twenty writers of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005 live all over our planet—a family farm in Kentucky, the city of Perth in Western Australia, urban Florida. Their stories are set in India, Paris, London, Brazil, and New York, also possibly in heaven. Whatever their origin, whatever their private or public inspiration, our Prize Stories are all preoccupied with notions of community. The relationship between individual and society is usually portrayed as a struggle—think of the destruction of Lily Bart in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. In these O. Henry stories, community and individual appear most often not in opposition but in some kind of disintegrating relation.

. . .

Among the New York City characters of “Dues,” nothing is forgiven, neither a minor crime of property nor a love affair that won’t quite die. Dale Peck sprinkles his story with doubles and dualities from the deuce of the title on, but all the odd couples are joined when an ironic community arises from disaster. Another New Yorker, in Paula Fox’s “Grace,” is opaque to his fellow office-workers and too obdurate for love. It’s not because he’s in New York that John Hillman is isolated but because he’s himself. In the New York of Caitlin Macy’s tale of real estate and social distinction, “Christie,” well-being is defined by living at the right address, even having the right doorman. The fun of the story is that we root for the narrator’s happiness though we know, and hope she knows, that it’s unattainable.

Happiness, almost an ecstasy, radiates from Sherman Alexie’s “What You Pawn I Will Redeem,” a tall tale of an unnamed Spokane Indian’s circular attempts, during a drunken twenty-four-hour odyssey, to repossess his grandmother’s regalia. In the course of his hero’s haphazard encounters, Alexie creates a community of people who, without expecting much, receive, and sometimes give, great gifts.

Kevin Brockmeier’s “The Brief History of the Dead” is set in a heavenlike yet down-to-earth city of the dead where acceptance is the norm, a city whose inhabitants are linked by the beat of a communal heart, the “pulse of those who are still alive.” The absence of hostility among the city’s dead citizens marks the afterlife as an almost enviable place to live.

Port William, the setting of Wendell Berry’s “The Hurt Man,” is a river town, unplanned and apparently ungoverned, “the sort of place that pretentious or ambitious people were inclined to leave.” Berry’s is a story about learning from those we live with, told by five-year-old Mat Feltner, who’s still wearing dresses and isn’t sure if he’ll be a boy or a girl, though he’s taken a step toward masculinity by learning to smoke cigars and chew coffee beans. He comes to understand that in the best communities we inherit one another’s stories and are sometimes remembered by them.

The love triangle in Timothy Crouse’s “Sphinxes” begins with piano lessons and completes itself in tragedy. The reader witnesses lovers wrenching apart, friendships dissolving, and the death of a child. Where once there was a sweet group—a family, three friends—by the end there are only individuals suffering separately. In another love story, Michael Parker’s “The Golden Era of Heartbreak,” the narrator is a runner pursuing respite from his baroquely relentless misery. He seems like the loneliest man on earth, but when he finds himself with company, his misfortune only increases.

Lillian in Nancy Reisman’s “Tea” has an unusual and satisfying life. Single, Jewish, she’s made a bold peace with her late-1920s community and with her sensuality by sleeping with the men she wants to and allowing herself no emotional involvements. Then she embarks on a new affair, and what begins with desire grows more treacherous. In Gail Jones’s “Desolation,” an accidental intimacy in Paris between a desperate man and a distant woman affords little comfort to either of them. The story captures both the loneliness and serendipitous companionship of solitary travel.

Three of the Prize Stories draw on history. In Elizabeth Stuckey-French’s “Mudlavia,” a community of early twentieth-century health seekers offers an alternative to a boy’s unhappy home life; that the alternative has its own flaws makes it no less important to his future. At the center of Ben Fountain’s “Fantasy for Eleven Fingers” is a rare piece of music that only a talented pianist born with an eleventh finger can play. It is an emblem for what happens to twentieth-century European Jewish life. In Liza Ward’s “Snowbound,” the young narrator, trapped in a Midwestern blizzard, lightens her loneliness by imagining a long-ago storm that isolated her frontier ancestors.

Exile creates new forms of community. The narrator of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s “Refuge in London” grows up in a London boardinghouse full of “European émigrés, all of them . . . carrying a past, a country or countries—a continent.” Her involvement with a once-famous artist and his rebellious wife affirms the lifeline that making art can be. In Nell Freudenberger’s “The Tutor,” set in Bombay, a young Indian man, altered by his student years in America, meets an American girl who has grown up in a series of foreign cities; she needs his help to be admitted to an American college. Rather as a surgeon might explore a wound, Freudenberger considers what belonging to a community means for each character.

In Tessa Hadley’s “The Card Trick,” Gina is an awkward teenager who’s ashamed of herself and her background. She visits a beloved writer’s house, now a museum, expecting to find herself as much at home as she is in the writer’s work; instead she’s alienated by the décor and its bourgeois comfort. Years later, her adolescent awkwardness seemingly behind her, Gina returns to the house, and her new reading of it pulls the story to its moving conclusion.

In Charles D’Ambrosio’s “The High Divide,” Ignatius Loyola Banner is a loner: his mother is dead, his father mad, and he lives in a Catholic orphanage. He befriends a boy who seems to be his opposite—he has a beautiful mother and a father who “rakes it in”—but a camping trip in the Olympic Mountains reveals that where family trouble is concerned, says Ignatius with wisdom and forgiveness, “there are millions of us everywhere.” Too much togetherness and easy community demand a high price in Edward P. Jones’s “A Rich Man.” A recent widower, Horace Perkins finds a bright life with a new group of friends, until, overcome by locusts in the form of women, drugs, drink, and his own weaknesses, Horace is so alone that he must ask in the end: “How does a man start from scratch?”

The startling beauty of the North Carolinian setting of Ron Rash’s “Speckle Trout” distracts the reader at first from the corruption at work in Lanny, the young and bored protagonist, and his rural community. When Lanny steals marijuana plants from an inaccessible plantation, he courts disaster and achieves it. Lanny knows the water and the mountains, the meaning of the sky and the local plants, but he is incapable of using his knowledge for his own good.

When her cousin runs in from the beach with the startling announcement that the body of a drowned woman has washed ashore, the narrator of Frances de Pontes Peebles’s “The Drowned Woman” comments: “My father would have never allowed Dorany into the dining room like that under normal circumstances.” Yet in her family there are no normal circumstances. None of the relationships are what they appear to be, and the truths that emerge shatter their small community.

Jean Strouse, biographer of diarist Alice James and the industrialist J. Pierpont Morgan, once said of biography that “the assumptions we make and the questions we ask about other people’s lives serve as tacit guides to our own.” This could as easily be said of fiction. Reading stories can transform our natural nosiness into recognition of another person nothing like ourselves.

After a century of modernist questioning of our ideas and institutions, we still long, as Strouse says, “for models of wholeness . . . for evidence that individual lives and choices matter.” Models of wholeness, however different from ourselves, can reassure us that in a world that seems large and impersonal, each individual’s choices are worthy of our attention.

The reader of fiction doesn’t require that models of wholeness be exemplary, only that they be fascinating. For as long as the story lasts, the reader doesn’t question whether or not individual lives and choices matter. We are willing captives, relieved for however long of our own burdens and complications.

There is another gift a story may give its reader. Our experience of the finest fiction changes; over time, we will reread the 2005 O. Henry Prize Stories and find new ways to understand and appreciate them.

Laura Furman, Austin, Texas

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Table of Contents

Introduction
Mudlavia 3
The brief history of the dead 26
The golden era of heartbreak 39
The hurt man 50
The tutor 58
Fantasy for eleven fingers 99
The high divide 120
Desolation 135
A rich man 144
Dues 164
Speckle trout 176
Sphinxes 191
Grace 214
Snowbound 231
Tea 250
Christie 265
Refuge in London 276
The drowned woman 300
The card trick 317
What you pawn I will redeem 333
Reading the O. Henry prize stories 2005 353
Cristina Garcia on "Refuge in London" by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
Ann Patchett on "What you pawn I will redeem" by Sherman Alexie
Richard Russo on "Mudlavia" by Elizabeth Stuckey-French
Writing the O. Henry prize stories 2005 357
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First Chapter

Introduction

In the work of Anton Chekhov, to whom The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005 is dedicated, one feels a force as powerful as a hurricane moving toward his characters. His knowledge from a young age that he had a terminal illness may account for some of this, but he was also sensitive to the gathering political storm in Russia. The 1905 revolution broke out within six months of his death. Writers and other artists respond to the same political and societal pressures as everybody else. Some explicitly use a political figure or an overwhelming event such as the Vietnam War in their art. Others are engaged by the public tensions of their time without any direct reference to current events.

The twenty writers of The O. Henry Prize Stories 2005 live all over our planet—a family farm in Kentucky, the city of Perth in Western Australia, urban Florida. Their stories are set in India, Paris, London, Brazil, and New York, also possibly in heaven. Whatever their origin, whatever their private or public inspiration, our Prize Stories are all preoccupied with notions of community. The relationship between individual and society is usually portrayed as a struggle—think of the destruction of Lily Bart in Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth. In these O. Henry stories, community and individual appear most often not in opposition but in some kind of disintegrating relation.

. . .

Among the New York City characters of "Dues," nothing is forgiven, neither a minor crime of property nor a love affair that won't quite die. Dale Peck sprinkles his story with doubles and dualities from the deuce of the title on, but all the odd couples are joined when anironic community arises from disaster. Another New Yorker, in Paula Fox's "Grace," is opaque to his fellow office-workers and too obdurate for love. It's not because he's in New York that John Hillman is isolated but because he's himself. In the New York of Caitlin Macy's tale of real estate and social distinction, "Christie," well-being is defined by living at the right address, even having the right doorman. The fun of the story is that we root for the narrator's happiness though we know, and hope she knows, that it's unattainable.

Happiness, almost an ecstasy, radiates from Sherman Alexie's "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," a tall tale of an unnamed Spokane Indian's circular attempts, during a drunken twenty-four-hour odyssey, to repossess his grandmother's regalia. In the course of his hero's haphazard encounters, Alexie creates a community of people who, without expecting much, receive, and sometimes give, great gifts.

Kevin Brockmeier's "The Brief History of the Dead" is set in a heavenlike yet down-to-earth city of the dead where acceptance is the norm, a city whose inhabitants are linked by the beat of a communal heart, the "pulse of those who are still alive." The absence of hostility among the city's dead citizens marks the afterlife as an almost enviable place to live.

Port William, the setting of Wendell Berry's "The Hurt Man," is a river town, unplanned and apparently ungoverned, "the sort of place that pretentious or ambitious people were inclined to leave." Berry's is a story about learning from those we live with, told by five-year-old Mat Feltner, who's still wearing dresses and isn't sure if he'll be a boy or a girl, though he's taken a step toward masculinity by learning to smoke cigars and chew coffee beans. He comes to understand that in the best communities we inherit one another's stories and are sometimes remembered by them.

The love triangle in Timothy Crouse's "Sphinxes" begins with piano lessons and completes itself in tragedy. The reader witnesses lovers wrenching apart, friendships dissolving, and the death of a child. Where once there was a sweet group—a family, three friends—by the end there are only individuals suffering separately. In another love story, Michael Parker's "The Golden Era of Heartbreak," the narrator is a runner pursuing respite from his baroquely relentless misery. He seems like the loneliest man on earth, but when he finds himself with company, his misfortune only increases.

Lillian in Nancy Reisman's "Tea" has an unusual and satisfying life. Single, Jewish, she's made a bold peace with her late-1920s community and with her sensuality by sleeping with the men she wants to and allowing herself no emotional involvements. Then she embarks on a new affair, and what begins with desire grows more treacherous. In Gail Jones's "Desolation," an accidental intimacy in Paris between a desperate man and a distant woman affords little comfort to either of them. The story captures both the loneliness and serendipitous companionship of solitary travel.

Three of the Prize Stories draw on history. In Elizabeth Stuckey-French's "Mudlavia," a community of early twentieth-century health seekers offers an alternative to a boy's unhappy home life; that the alternative has its own flaws makes it no less important to his future. At the center of Ben Fountain's "Fantasy for Eleven Fingers" is a rare piece of music that only a talented pianist born with an eleventh finger can play. It is an emblem for what happens to twentieth-century European Jewish life. In Liza Ward's "Snowbound," the young narrator, trapped in a Midwestern blizzard, lightens her loneliness by imagining a long-ago storm that isolated her frontier ancestors.

Exile creates new forms of community. The narrator of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's "Refuge in London" grows up in a London boardinghouse full of "European émigrés, all of them . . . carrying a past, a country or countries—a continent." Her involvement with a once-famous artist and his rebellious wife affirms the lifeline that making art can be. In Nell Freudenberger's "The Tutor," set in Bombay, a young Indian man, altered by his student years in America, meets an American girl who has grown up in a series of foreign cities; she needs his help to be admitted to an American college. Rather as a surgeon might explore a wound, Freudenberger considers what belonging to a community means for each character.

In Tessa Hadley's "The Card Trick," Gina is an awkward teenager who's ashamed of herself and her background. She visits a beloved writer's house, now a museum, expecting to find herself as much at home as she is in the writer's work; instead she's alienated by the décor and its bourgeois comfort. Years later, her adolescent awkwardness seemingly behind her, Gina returns to the house, and her new reading of it pulls the story to its moving conclusion.

In Charles D'Ambrosio's "The High Divide," Ignatius Loyola Banner is a loner: his mother is dead, his father mad, and he lives in a Catholic orphanage. He befriends a boy who seems to be his opposite—he has a beautiful mother and a father who "rakes it in"—but a camping trip in the Olympic Mountains reveals that where family trouble is concerned, says Ignatius with wisdom and forgiveness, "there are millions of us everywhere." Too much togetherness and easy community demand a high price in Edward P. Jones's "A Rich Man." A recent widower, Horace Perkins finds a bright life with a new group of friends, until, overcome by locusts in the form of women, drugs, drink, and his own weaknesses, Horace is so alone that he must ask in the end: "How does a man start from scratch?"

The startling beauty of the North Carolinian setting of Ron Rash's "Speckle Trout" distracts the reader at first from the corruption at work in Lanny, the young and bored protagonist, and his rural community. When Lanny steals marijuana plants from an inaccessible plantation, he courts disaster and achieves it. Lanny knows the water and the mountains, the meaning of the sky and the local plants, but he is incapable of using his knowledge for his own good.

When her cousin runs in from the beach with the startling announcement that the body of a drowned woman has washed ashore, the narrator of Frances de Pontes Peebles's "The Drowned Woman" comments: "My father would have never allowed Dorany into the dining room like that under normal circumstances." Yet in her family there are no normal circumstances. None of the relationships are what they appear to be, and the truths that emerge shatter their small community.


Jean Strouse, biographer of diarist Alice James and the industrialist J. Pierpont Morgan, once said of biography that "the assumptions we make and the questions we ask about other people's lives serve as tacit guides to our own." This could as easily be said of fiction. Reading stories can transform our natural nosiness into recognition of another person nothing like ourselves.

After a century of modernist questioning of our ideas and institutions, we still long, as Strouse says, "for models of wholeness . . . for evidence that individual lives and choices matter." Models of wholeness, however different from ourselves, can reassure us that in a world that seems large and impersonal, each individual's choices are worthy of our attention.

The reader of fiction doesn't require that models of wholeness be exemplary, only that they be fascinating. For as long as the story lasts, the reader doesn't question whether or not individual lives and choices matter. We are willing captives, relieved for however long of our own burdens and complications.

There is another gift a story may give its reader. Our experience of the finest fiction changes; over time, we will reread the 2005 O. Henry Prize Stories and find new ways to understand and appreciate them.

Laura Furman, Austin, Texas
Read More Show Less

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