Indeed. But apart from presenting an overstuffed selection of good work, Pushcart affords room for hope. Here’s looking...

THE PUSHCART PRIZE XL

BEST OF THE SMALL PRESSES 2016 EDITION

The venerable literary annual turns 40, with no signs of slowing down.

Editor Henderson, whose brainchild the prize was, customarily includes a rather dour state of the publishing union address in his introductory remarks. Here, he invokes literary lion Leon Wieseltier, who lamented the “bacchanal of disruption” that has left in its wake the corpses of so many bookstores and record shops, “destroyed by the greatest thugs in the history of the culture industry.” Against this gloom, Henderson is unusually cheerful: he holds that the future is so bright for small-press types that they’ve got to wear shades, provided someone else buys them since there’s no money in the culture biz. The anthology speaks to that, its contributions coming from comparatively well-heeled venues like Paris Review and American Poetry Review but also from scruffy little magazines out on the fringes of the publishing world, if still mostly concentrated around the cultural centers of the Northeast. As ever, among what Henderson enumerates as “68 poems, stories, essays, and memoirs from 51 presses,” there are some remarkable standouts as well as a few pieces that don’t make a dent. Colum McCann’s story “Sh’khol” is a marvel of tragic compaction: within a hundred words, Irish parents adopt a Russian child with fetal alcohol syndrome, bubbling with happiness at the new arrival, and in the flash of seven years, divorce, the wife “living out west, her parents…gone, her task…doubled.” Amazingly, things get worse. Joanna Scott’s story “The Knowledge Gallery” is a smart, brooding piece of literary dystopia, though it’s good to know that in the Soylent Greeny future there are still doughnut holes. Among the heavy hitters, Joyce Carol Oates, bracketing Wieseltier, wistfully recalls the beginnings of her career, when literary writers such as Truman Capote and Katherine Anne Porter appeared in the pages of fashion magazines: “How improbable this seems to us, by contemporary standards!”

Indeed. But apart from presenting an overstuffed selection of good work, Pushcart affords room for hope. Here’s looking forward to many more editions.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-888889-79-6

Page Count: 650

Publisher: Pushcart

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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