My favorite book of the six shortlisted for the 2011 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award is Edna O’Brien’s Saints and Sinners. If I were a judge in the contest, this is the one I would vote for as the “best” overall collection, the one I think most deserving of a prize commemorating the name of Frank O’Connor.
However, it would be naive, maybe even arrogant, to suggest that I know best which is the “best” book of short stories in the group. Obviously, as indicated by my remarks on Valerie Trueblood’s Marry or Burn, and the comments posted by one of her admirers, suggesting my own review is a “biased pan,” so-called critical judgments as to which is the “best” among a group of books of fiction may be tainted by “personal” preference. I would like to think my only “bias” is for good short stories, but maybe not.
Moreover, one often makes a judgment on what is “best” by eliminating from the list of contestants all those that one did not like so well, therefore arriving at a winner by a process of winnowing. As my remarks on each of the six books probably suggest, I would rank them in the following order, beginning with my “personal best.” If you want to know why I ranked them this way, I refer you to the six previous blog posts in which I discuss them.
1. Edna O’Brien, Saints and Sinners
2. Yiyun Li, Gold Boy, Emerald Girl
3. Suzanne Rivecca, Death is Not an Option
4. Alexander MacLeod, Light Lifting
5. Colm Tóibín, The Empty Family
6. Valerie Trueblood, Marry or Burn
But let’s be honest. Other considerations come into play when making a so-called critical judgment on what is “best.” Although I liked Yiyun Li’s Gold Boy, Emerald Girl, I would be reluctant to give her the prize a second time. Both Suzanne Rivecca and Alexander MacLeod’s collections are uneven, it seems to me; although some stories are very strong, others seem self-indulgent and hurried. Besides, Li, Rivecca, and MacLeod are young enough to still have time to prove themselves “worthy,” as it were. Colm Tóibín and Valerie Trueblood may be good novelists, but they are not, it seems to me, good short story writers.
By choosing Edna O’Brien, I may well be influenced by other, more extraneous considerations.
*She may be the “hometown favorite,” as it were; no one from Ireland has won this very Irish prize. And Colm Tóibín has already won important prizes for his novels.
*Because of her age, she may well be the sentimental favorite; she is 81, still elegantly working, and she has not won many prizes.
*Because she was treated so shabbily by Irish priests and critics as a “bad girl” when her first books came out, she may very well be due for some recompense; the priests do not have the control over the morals of the country as they once did.
It is fortunate that aside from these “personal” considerations, in my opinion, her book is overall the “best” book in the six shortlisted entries in the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.I wish Edna O’Brien much luck in the competition. I look forward to the announcement this Sunday of the winner of The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.