The 2004 iteration of the longstanding best-of series, as always, scours the literary journals for outstanding new fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction, and memoirs that ordinary readers might otherwise have missed.
Some of the pieces here are merely fashionable and as such ephemeral; others promise to endure beyond a few literary seasons. Established writers are heavily represented, and there are wonderful entries from the likes of Evan S. Connell, who, perhaps in accidental homage to Stanley Elkin, imagines a curmudgeonly businessman adrift in history and given to dyspeptic griping about all sorts of things (“the republic would be better off if Nixon had spent a couple of decades mumbling and raving in the jug”); Joyce Carol Oates, who conjures up bookish nerds of the 1950s; and the normally hyperurbane George Steiner, who turns in a violent little tale from the drug wars (“Pablo Escobar? You want to know about Escobar? He was a turd. A mother-fucking turd”). Younger writers also figure, notably Valerie Laken in a nicely mannered debut work of short fiction. Pushcart publisher and author Henderson (Tower, 2000, etc.) proclaims that “this glorious collection . . . should give us all faith that in the age of American Empire—when money, machines, and machinations seem to rule—the still quiet voice of inspiration and individuality is alive and thriving.” A little self-serving, that, but he’s on the right track, emerging with another in a long line of good books.