Book Review: The Pushcart Prize XXXIV: Best of the Small Presses

The Pushcart Prize XXXIV: Best of the Small Presses (2010 Edition)The Pushcart Prize XXXIV: Best of the Small Presses by Bill Henderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is Pushcart’s annual collection of essays, poems, and short fiction published by America’s most celebrated small presses. I read it to learn what constitutes award-winning contemporary short fiction. For the most part, I was left cold. The fashion is first-person fiction that reads like a personal essay; story is of little import and writers run from anything that appears to entertain. The exception is Joyce Carol Oates’s story, Bonobo Mama, which isn’t particularly entertaining, but at least its structure is familiar (what is JC Oates doing in an anthology of small press fiction? Oh, right, she’s a founding editor. Hmmm…).

There are a number of stories which held me, to a greater or lesser extent. Not an insignificant few, including Bonobo Mama, deal with the theme of bad mothers and wounded daughters. Since I could write the book on that particular subject, all hope of a career as contemporary fiction writer is not lost. *Snort*

The highlights include: Work and Industry in the Northern Midwest Luther Magnussen (which isn’t a story and makes no real sense, but it is entertaining); What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us Laura Van Den Berg- a painful daughter/mother coming-of-age that includes my new favorite thing, swimming; Two Studies in Entropy Sara Pritchard- what happens when you leave home with too many flea bombs set to detonate at the same time; Our Pointy Boots Brock Clark- surrealist tale of Iraq War vets returning home; Everything, All at Once Austin Bunn – more painful daughter/mother growth stuff.

In addition, there is stunning poetry- in fact, the poems make this volume a keeper- and some moving essays; Put on the Petty by Amos Magliocco is very fine.

This was an excellent exercise in determining writing styles that do not suit me. I’m neither clever enough for surrealism, nor cynical enough for satire. Old school Beginning, Middle, End is good enough for me.

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