Latest installment of the annual creative-writing anthology, now in its 43rd year.
Always a wide-open collection, the Pushcart Prize is visibly more diverse than ever; while this volume is full of the usual suspects (Robert Hass, Rick Moody, Robert Coover), it abounds in young writers of widely different backgrounds and experiences, as if to affirm contributor Brian Doyle’s lovely thought that “whatever you think you know about a person or an animal or a tree because it is a certain species or color or nativity is probably egregiously wrong.” That said, the opening piece, by the well-established novelist and essayist Pam Houston, is one of the standouts of the collection, a meditation on the passing of a dog that opens onto reflections of a life divided among town and gown (“To the people in Creede I am intelligent, suspiciously sophisticated, and elitist to the point of being absurd. To the people at UC Davis I am quaint, a little slow on the uptake, and far too earnest to even believe”). The piece closes with an elegant note on the beauty of a nature besieged by our barbarous kind. On the place front, old hippie Steve Stern recalls the Fayetteville, Arkansas, of old, as personified by the recently deceased poet C.D. Wright: “It gives me vertigo to find myself hanging about on earth in her absence.” Jessica Burstein’s story “All Politics,” a goofy exercise in improbable name-dropping dedicated to “Professor James Franco,” is nicely observed and pleasingly sardonic (“The treadmills were circa 1990s, circa Kurt Cobain, really old and without any video…”), while the winner of the great Walter Mitty moment is Sanjay Agnihatri’s “Guerrilla Marketing," which speaks quietly but urgently to the discontents of the overqualified and, yes, besieged immigrant (says the goddess Lakshmi to the protagonist, “Did you think I’d allow you to remain in debt and spend your days serving buffet lunches to ugly Americans?”).
Weighted toward the academy but, as ever, a state-of-the-genre summary of trends in fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction.