Pushcart pushes on, entering its fourth decade of anthologizing the year’s crop of small- and literary- press stories, poems and essays.
As usual, these overstuffed pages, always with a surprise or two, contain a mix of the well known and not—though, this year, the number of workshop celebrities seems lower than normal. There is the familiar blend of the exalted with the humdrum, for even after all these years the ghost of Ray Carver looms over the land, chronicling how tedious we have all become. (“Wait, Sheryl. I call the police and there’s no stopping it, like a roller coaster it’ll just go down, down into tragedy.” “The nice thing about a digital camera was it allowed him to see the results immediately.” “Thank God I’m only as fucked up as I am and not as fucked up as those other people.”) One neorealist development of note is the emergence of Iraq as setting and backdrop, notably in Benjamin Percy’s volume-opening “Refresh, Refresh,” with its Deer Hunter vision of how war affects small towns that will always supply fresh troops, no matter how its people have suffered. But then there are the evocations of shooting dogs, of accordions in malls, of neuralgia galore; and contemporary writers, it would seem, give pizza an altogether too-central place in the great chain of being, perhaps because they are all former grad students. A mixed bag, then, though editor Bill Henderson and his able assistants have turned up some gems, with some transcendental moments: Brian Doyle cataloguing the things in life worth living for (“You either take a flying leap at nonsensical illogical unreasonable ideas like marriage and marathons and democracy and divinity, or you huddle behind the wall”), Wendell Berry gentling chiding the blockhead culture and Maureen Stanton pondering the meaning of laundry and life.
There’s lots of good writing here, as always. A stalwart, and a staple, of American letters.