PRIZE STORIES 1987: THE O. HENRY AWARDS, edited by William Abrahams (Doubleday: $17.95; 319 pp.). Sharing top honors in this collection of short stories is "Fleur" by Louise Erdich (first printed in Esquire). The other stories in the collection, if not most I've read, pale in comparison. "Fleur" has power on many levels, as myth and mystery and simple truth, emotionally and intellectually, and as a work of art. Erdich writes about an Indian girl who gets involved in a deadly card game with a trio of slaughterhouse workers. She creates a tense drama, flavored by Indian mythology but grounded in her insight into human nature.
Joyce Johnson's "The Children's Wing," is the co-winner. This is a simple and straightforward story. The narrator's 10-year-old son is hospitalized with a mysterious disease, and the plot concerns the impact on him of a mentally disturbed boy in the next bed. The story is a careful accounting of complex events, but one is left to wonder about greater truths.
The most disappointing story in the collection is Donald Barthelme's "Basil From Her Garden," which seemed fragmented, solipsistic and pointless. Gina Berriault's "The Island of Ven" is beautiful but sadly empty. Mary Robison's "I Get By" deals with unspeakable loss by tenderly touching its edges. The collection yearly reprints 20 stories, gleaned from American magazines.