The Pen/O.Henry Prize Stories are twenty short stories from literary magazines as well established as The New Yorker to the lesser-known Grain and Five Points. It’s always risky to pick up a collection of short stories by various authors because, unlike collections by a single author, the quality across the collection isn’t guaranteed. Different writers, different styles, different ways of telling a story can mean a wildly varied hodgepodge similar to those Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jellybeans: one handful tastes like delicious cotton candy and popcorn at first and then you realize you’re also eating the unappetizing snot and dirt beans too. Fear not: from Junot Diaz’s lingering “Wildwood,” about an immigrant’s daughter coming to terms with herself and her mother; to Andrew Sean Greer’s “Darkness,” about what is burned, and therefore lost, in a postapocalyptic world; to Marisa Silver’s “The Visitor,” about a young woman and her grandmother working to repair failed relationships, these stories are undeniably terrific from start to finish.
–review by Lacey Dunham