This week I pitted two stories from Sierra Leone circa 1967 against the first and second prize winners of 1995’s O. Henry Award.
At some point the question comes down to a matter of taste. Both of the Africa stories, one by Abioseh Nicol and one by Sarif Easmon, were traditional stories–clearly drawn characters in a linear plot arc with a climax. Each also featured a bit of the magical realism that I’ve found in other books from Africa, think Ben Okri’s The Famished Road for example but not enough to through either into the experimental category. One’s a ghost story, one’s a revenge tale. Both are a bit mythical. I loved them.
And even though neither was all that deep as short stories go, I don’t think there’d be much to talk about either if my book club read them, they have stayed with me for several days now. A good plot twist can do that.
The two from the O. Henry Award collection are much more typical of western literary short stories with an emphasis on character over plot and a cloudly sort of triumph of the spirit if there’s any climax at all. It’s a little strange, in my view, that neither story has a plot twist or even a real emphasis on plot. The award is named after the man who practically invented the plot twist after all.
Cornelia Nixon and John J. Clayton both wrote very good stories but it was kind of hard to read them after the African tales. They each featured well drawn characters but they didn’t reach a destination in the same way the African ones did. They each came to an end, but they did not satisfy in the same way. These are much closer to the slice-of-life story. Each one was a good slice, mind you, but neither was the whole pie.
And to be perfectly and bluntly honest, I don’t really remember much about either one. I liked them, but they did not stick to the ribs the way the African stories did.
So, this round is Sierra Leone for the win!