PRIZE STORIES 1986: THE O'HENRY AWARDS, edited by William Abrahams (Doubleday: $17.95). One of the most welcome signs of the literary spring is the appearance of the annual O'Henry Awards collection. "Prize Stories 1986: The O'Henry Awards" is the 66th annual volume in the series, and like its predecessors contains short stories by both established writers (Alice Walker, Ward Just and Alice Adams are among this year's "biggies") and gifted newer ones.

As usual, editor William Abrahams includes his own "state of the story" introduction, in which he laments the proliferation of mere technical expertise in story-writing at the expense of meatier substance. The consequences? ". . . A very real danger of superficiality and what I would call trivialization."

The stories in the volume bear this out. The ones that fail are extended, self-indulgent complaints. The ones that succeed are the ones that take the most chances--stories that are conceived as a form of entertainment, no matter how intellectual or poetic that entertainment might be.

These include Jeanne Wilmot's "Dirt Angel," a riveting description of a nightmarish, drugged-out world; Peter Meinke's "Uncle George and Uncle Stefan," a reminiscence of growing up in ethnic Brooklyn that manages to splendidly transcend mere nostalgia; Greg Johnson's "Crazy Ladies," which in its portrayal of a Southern town's pet eccentric manages to simultaneously touch the extremes of both great love and great hate; and, arguably, the best story in the volume, Irvin Faust's "The Year of the Hot Jock," where the energetic prose style perfectly matches the tumultuous, headlong pace of a feisty Panamanian jockey heading for the abrupt finish line of his life.

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