Prize Stories 1999: The O. Henry Awards


The seventy-ninth anniversary of this annual collection of short stories "widely regarded as the nation's most prestigious awards for short fiction." (The Atlantic Monthly).

Edited and with an introduction by Larry Dark
1999 Top-Prize Selection Jury: Sherman Alexie, Stephen King, Lorrie Moore

Established in 1918 as a memorial to O.Henry, this esteemed annual collection has presented a remarkable collection of ...

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The seventy-ninth anniversary of this annual collection of short stories "widely regarded as the nation's most prestigious awards for short fiction." (The Atlantic Monthly).

Edited and with an introduction by Larry Dark
1999 Top-Prize Selection Jury: Sherman Alexie, Stephen King, Lorrie Moore

Established in 1918 as a memorial to O.Henry, this esteemed annual collection has presented a remarkable collection of stories over the years. Recently, Series Editor Larry Dark has incorporated some exciting changes: a magazine award, the eligibility of stories from Canadian magazines, a list of fifty Honorable Mention stories, an expanded listing of publications consulted, and a celebrity author top-prize jury.

Representing the very best in contemporary American and Canadian fiction, Prize Stories 1999: The O.Henry Awards is a superb collection of twenty inventive, full-bodied short stories brimming with life--proof of the continuing strength and variety of the genre.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
High praise for Prize Stories 1998:

"Absorbing, often dazzling...It suggests a new and exciting direction not only for the series but also for the ongoing relevance and vibrancy of the American story." --The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Full of powerful performances." --Publishers Weekly

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Introducing this distinguished annual collection, series editor Dark notes "the inherent subjectivity of the reading experience," an important caveat whenever an anthology pulls together stories under a "Best of the Year" heading. This year's judges, Sherman Alexie, Stephen King and Lorrie Moore, provide short essays for the three stories winning top honors. Of the 17 other tales, most earn their place here by virtue of innovation, emotional impact, or masterful imaginative leaps. Certain selections are bone-chilling, like Michael Chabon's "Son of the Wolfman," a pull-no-punches examination of a horrifying plight, pregnancy-by-rape; and Annie Proulx's "The Mud Below," a fiercely literary western tale of a bull rider. Others are eye-catching. though not always top-notch, like David Foster Wallace's "The Depressed Person," a logorrheic examination of privilege and depression (complete with maniacal footnotes), or "Cataract," Pam Houston's tough-talk river adventure. A rare story by Chaim Potok, about a troubled adolescent, gratifies, as do T. Coraghessan Boyle's "The Underground Gardens," in which an Italian immigrant's need to dig in the earth becomes all-encompassing, and Michael Cunningham's time-lapse portrait of a beautiful, self-involved young man observed by his despairing sibling. The first-, second- and third-prize winners (Peter Baida's "A Nurse's Story," Cary Holladay's "Merry-Go-Sorry" and Alice Munro's "Save the Reaper," respectively) are rich ground for debate among serious short-fiction readers: exactly how does Baida's melancholy, hopeful tale of a dying woman's courageous work organizing fellow nurses come to be ranked above all the others, including a gem by Jhumpa Lahiri and those short-listed at the book's end? But this discussion is integral to the pleasure of reading such a collection. It is somewhat disappointing that the anthology's Magazine Award again went to the obvious powerhouse, the New Yorker, when the Gettysburg Review, with two sharp stories, seemed a worthy contender. Overall, the collection is not only a keystone for readers, but, with its useful listing of magazines consulted (including addresses), a motivating force for writers. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A pretty sad collection that serves to show why fewer and fewer people bother with what passes for literary fiction these days. As usual, most everything here is from the quarterlies or The New Yorker, and everyone seems to be taking themselves very seriously indeed. The First Prize went to Peter Baida for "A Nurse's Story," an account of a small-town nurse and union-organizer that's written as straight-faced social realism of the Howard Fast school. The Second Prize entry is Cary Holladay's "Merry-Go-Sorry," a gripping but ultimately rather vapid portrayal of the murder of three boys by an Arkansas pedophile. Alice Munro came in third for "Save the Reaper," a pale retelling of Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find" (an annoying old woman leads her family on a wild-goose chase that ends disastrously). The piece manages to mimic O'Connor's grotesqueries without sharing in the first glimmer of her grace. The rest of the collection is a mixed bag. David Foster Wallace is on hand with a long footnote attached to some sort of story ("The Depressed Person"). T.C. Boyle offers a vaguely dreamlike portrait of a Sicilian immigrant who comes to California at the turn of the century and sets about creating a rather strange new Eden for his sweetheart ("The Underground Gardens"). Gerald Reilly ("Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree") provides an amusing glimpse of what happens when an actor gets too much into the character of his part, and Pinckney Benedict ("Miracle Boy") reminds us just how perverse small boys can be in the face of the crippled or weak. Once again, the least ambitious entries are the best: Annie Proulx ("The Mud Below") gives an interesting account of life among Oklahomabronco-busters, while Kina Davenport ("Fork Used in Eating Reverend Baker") takes us through the whirlwind of political strife in Fiji. A few good moments, but generally disappointing.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385493581
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/14/1999
  • Series: Prize Stories Series
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Larry Dark is a graduate of Columbia University's M.F.A. creative writing program  and the editor of four additional anthologies: Literary Outtakes, The Literary Ghost, The Literary Lover, and The Literary Traveler. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Sherman Alexie, a former O.Henry prizewinner, has most recently published a novel, Indian Killer, as well as a collection of short stories about Native American life entitled The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, which was the basis of the award-winning film Smoke Signals.

Stephen King is the author of countless bestselling novels, including his latest chart buster, Bag of Bones. He was the 1996 O.Henry Awards top-prize winner. Lorrie Moore is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Best American Short Stories, and won the top honor in Prize Stories 1998. She is the author of two novels and three short-story collections, including her latest, Birds of America.

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Read an Excerpt

A Nurse's Story Peter Baida

From The Gettysburg Review

THE PAIN in Mary McDonald's bones is not the old pain that she knows well, but a new pain. Sitting in her room in the Booth-Tiessler Geriatric Center, on the third floor, in the bulky chair by the window, Mary tries to measure this pain. She sits motionless, with a grave expression on her face, while the cheerless gray sky on the other side of the window slowly fades toward evening.

Mary McDonald knows what this pain comes from. It comes from a cancer that began in her colon and then spread to her liver and now has moved into her bones. Mary McDonald has been a nurse for forty years, she has retained the full use of her faculties, and she understands perfectly where this pain comes from and what it means.

"Union?" Eunice Barnacle says. "What do I want with a union?"

"Miss Barnacle," Mary McDonald says, looking at her from the chair by the window, "do you think you're paid what you're worth?"

Miss Barnacle is a lean, sharp-featured black woman in her middle twenties, with a straight nose, small teeth, wary eyes, and a straightforward manner, who joined the staff at Booth-Tiessler about a month ago. "This place can't afford to pay me what I'm worth," she says.

"That's certainly what they want you to believe, Miss Barnacle. May I ask a nosy question?"

"I suppose."

"What do they pay you, Miss Barnacle?"

"That's my business."

"Eight-fifty per hour. Is that about right, Miss Barnacle?"

Miss Barnacle, in her white uniform, turns pale. She has paused with her hand on the doorknob, looking over the neatly made bed to the chair where Mary McDonald is sitting. Pearl gray light falls on a walker near the chair. Mary McDonald's hands are closed in her lap, over a green-and-gold quilt. Her face is solemn.

"Do you think this place knows what you're worth, Miss Barnacle?"

A good death. That's what everyone wants.

Mary McDonald still remembers, from her first year as a nurse, well over forty years ago, a little old woman named Ida Peterson, with a tumor in her neck near the carotid artery. The call bell at the nurses' station rang, and Mary McDonald walked down the hall, opened the door, and was struck squarely in the face by something warm, wet, and red.

Blood from a ruptured artery gushed out of Mrs. Peterson's tracheotomy opening, out of an ulcerated site on her neck, out of her nose, out of her mouth. Mary was stunned. She saw blood on the ceiling, on the floor, on the bed, on the walls.

Mrs. Peterson had wanted to die a peaceful, dignified death, in the presence of her husband. She had wanted to die a "natural" death. Now, as the life poured out of her, she lifted her hand to wipe her nose and mouth. With wide eyes, she looked at the blood on her hand.

Ida Peterson had wanted a natural death, in the presence of her husband, and she was getting one, in the presence of Mary McDonald, a nurse she had known for five minutes.

Mrs. Peterson's blue, terrified eyes looked into Mary McDonald's eyes for the full fifteen minutes it took her to bleed to death. Her hand gripped Mary's hand. Mary did nothing. Her orders were to allow Mrs. Peterson to die a natural death.

Mary had never before seen an arterial bleed. She still remembers the splash of blood on her face when she stepped into Mrs. Peterson's room. She still remembers how long it took Mrs. Peterson to die. You wouldn't think that a little woman could have so much blood in her.

"They tell me you were some good nurse," Eunice Barnacle says, taking Mary's blood pressure.

"I'm still a good nurse," Mary McDonald says.

"They tell me you helped start the nurses' union, over at the hospital."

"Who tells you?"

"Mrs. Pierce."


"Mrs. Pierce says those were the days."

"Maybe they were."

Eunice loosens the blood pressure cup from Mary's arm. "Mrs. McDonald?"


"That union--" Eunice hesitates, looking at the floor.

"What about it?" Mary says.

"You think it helped you?"

Booth's Landing is an unpretentious town with a population of nearly nine thousand, located among gently rolling hills on the east side of the Hudson River, fifty miles north of New York City. In every generation, for as long as anyone can remember, the Booths and the Tiesslers have been the town's leading families. The Booth family descends from the town's founder, Josiah Booth, a merchant of the Revolutionary War period whom local historians describe as a miniature version of John Jacob Astor. The Tiessler family descends from Klaus Tiessler, an immigrant from Heidelberg who in 1851 founded a factory that makes silverware.

"A nice town," people who live in Booth's Landing say. "A nice place to bring up a family." That's how Mary McDonald has always felt, and that's what she has always said when people ask her about the place.

In every generation, for as long as anyone can remember, one member of the Booth family has run the town's bank, and one member of the Tiessler family has run the silverware factory. The town also supports one movie theater, two sporting goods stores, two opticians, three auto repair shops, one synagogue, and nine churches. Most of the people who die in Booth's Landing were born there. Many have died with Mary McDonald holding their hands.

Oh, not so many, Mary thinks, pursing her lips. Not that she has kept count. Why would anyone keep count?

You can do worse than to live and die in a place like Booth's Landing. The air is fresh. The streets are clean and safe. The leading families have paid steady attention to their civic and philanthropic responsibilities. If you're sick in Booth's Landing, you go to the Booth-Tiessler Community Hospital. If you want to see live entertainment, you buy tickets for the latest show at the Booth-Tiessler Center for the Performing Arts. If you can no longer take care of yourself, you arrange to have yourself deposited in the Booth-Tiessler Geriatric Center.

At the Booth-Tiessler Community College, nearly fifty years ago, Mary McDonald fulfilled the requirements for her nursing degree. Now, sitting by her window on the third floor in the Geriatric Center, looking over the cherry tree in the yard below toward the river, with the odor of overcooked turnips floating up from the kitchen on the first floor, she finds her mind drifting over her life, back and forth, here and there, like a bird that hops from place to place on a tree with many branches.

"I've never been a troublemaker."

That was what Mary McDonald said to Clarice Hunter when Clarice asked her to help form a nurses' union at the Booth-Tiessler Community Hospital in 1965.

"Hon," Clarice Hunter said, "do you know what the nurses get paid in New York City?"

"I don't live in New York City," Mary said.

"You know what the nurses get paid in Tarrytown?"

"I don't live in Tarrytown."

"It's only ten minutes drive."

"Okay. What do they get paid in Tarrytown?"

Clarice told her.

"Holy moly," Mary McDonald said.

"Will you help me?" Clarice said.

"Clarice, don't pester me."

"You call this pestering?"

Mary did not answer.

"What's the problem, Mary?"

"I'm not a big believer in unions."

"Being a doormat--is that what you believe in?"

Mary pursed her lips.

"It's your Catholic upbringing," Clarice said.

"What about it?"

"Mary, they programmed you. They programmed you to bow down to authority."

No doubt about that, Mary thought. Call me Bended Knee.

"Mary, your help would mean a lot to us."

"I've never been a troublemaker."

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Larry Dark


"A Nurse's Story" by Peter Baida
Introduced by Sherman Alexie


"Merry-Go-Sorry" by Cary Holladay 
Introduced by Stephen King


"Save the Reaper" by Alice Munro
Introduced by Lorrie Moore

"The Depressed Person" by David Foster Wallace

"Cataract" by Pam Houston

"Sea Oak" by George Saunders

"Interpreter of Maladies" by Jhumpa Lahiri

"Nixon Under the Bodhi Tree" by Gerald Reilly

"Mister Brother" by Michael Cunningham

"Moon" by Chaim Potok

"Burning" by Robert Schirmer

"Watching Girls Play" by W.D. Wetherell

"Afterbirth," by Sheila M. Schwartz

"Son of the Wolfman" by Michael Chabon

"Miracle Boy" by Pinckney Benedict

"The Underground Gardens" by T. Coraghessan Boyle

"Fork Used to Eat Reverend Baker" by Kiana Davenport

"Sign" by Charlotte Forbes

"A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga" by Julia Whitty

"The Mud Below" by Annie Proulx

Contributors' Notes
50 Short-Listed Stories
Citation for 1999 Magazine Award Winner: The New Yorker
Magazines Consulted listings

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