THE PUSHCART PRIZE XIX

BEST OF THE SMALL PRESSES

It's hard not to get too excited about the latest enormous volume of the best of the noncommercial world of short stories, poetry, and essays. One could easily take it as a sign that the independent publishing community has finally broken free from the shackles of academia and is asserting its voice—actually a whole range of voices that fiercely push themselves forward to be heard. There are a few big names, like Louise Erdrich, Louise GlÅck, and Charles Baxter, but they mostly contribute thoughtful, interesting literary essays. The collection really sings, though, with the sound of rousing newcomers. Some authors have had little or no previous work published, like Bliss Broyard with her graceful story ``My Father, Dancing,'' and Charles D'Ambrosio with ``Jacinta,'' an evocation of quiet desperation in rural Oregon. Several entries are strikingly original in form and content, namely Eugene Stein's story of ultimate anarchism in ``The Triumph of the Prague Workers' Councils'' and George Williams's manic fantasy in ``The Road From Damascus.'' Nonliterary essays offer eloquent views on such subjects as the power of giving messages in Brenda Miller's ``A Thousand Buddahs'' and on the death of great dogs in Vicki Hearne's ``Oyez Beaumont.'' Many of the contributors bring with them the cultural heritage of recent immigration or displacement, most successfully in Marilyn Chin's long poem ``A Portrait of the Self as Nation, 19901991'' and Josip Novakovich's story of survival in Yugoslavia in ``Honey in the Carcase.'' African-Americans, Native Americans, and Latinos are also well represented, but there are no dominant themes, issues, or points of view, and there are surprisingly few duds in a collection this varied. Much has been written about the fall of prose in America, the result of an attention-span-impaired generation, of evil conglomerate book publishers, of stultifying university writing programs, but this latest volume of the Pushcart Prize offers ample evidence that there are many who are able and willing to pick up the fallen banner of the written word. A surprising, vital collection that should hearten all serious readers.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-916366-92-8

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Pushcart

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1994

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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