I have read three more short stories from The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories of 2009: Substitutes, by Viet Dinh; Isabel's Daughter, by Karen Brown; and The Camera and the Cobra, by Roger Nash.
Isabel's Daughter is about a man's relationship with his first "steady girlfriend," and how her daughter from a previous relationship reminded him of her. He is never able to express his feelings to Isabel, and feels regret when she dies (suicide). I thought the story was really interesting in that it dealt with such a dark ending with casual language. The story is strange because although it discusses emotional topics, the narration is really devoid of emotion.
The Camera and the Cobra made me laugh because it reminded me of my family when we travel. We are constantly taking pictures, but sometimes forget to actually enjoy what we are seeing, just as the narrator does. The narrator realizes this when he is taking pictures of ants, but finds that the ants are probably observing him more than he is observing them. I think the story was about trying to get people to live life to the fullest.
Out of all the short stories I have read (6 in total), my favorite is Substitutes, by Viet Dinh. It is about the fall of Vietnam, but it is told through the events in a classroom in Vietnam. The class goes through a series of substitute teachers since they all begin disappearing. In the end, once the communists finally take over, the last teacher is a general. The general tells them that there is not point in being a scholar and staying in school. All the children leave school, and the schools turn into "re-education" camps, where they see scholars such as their old teachers. This is a story about the power of education and how it is something feared. Also, the author, Viet Dinh, was a Vietnamese refugee whose family escaped to the United States. He went to Harvard Law and was the Assistant Attorney General under the Bush Adminstration. He also was the chief architect of the USA Patriot Act. (352)