Useful as an annual state-of-the-art address, even if the state of the art would seem to be only middling.

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THE PUSHCART PRIZE XXXIX

BEST OF THE SMALL PRESSES 2015 EDITION

An old warhorse takes another turn of the track, just shy of its 40th.

The good news in this edition of the venerable Pushcart annual anthology is that there are fewer of the usual suspects, the Carver acolytes and David Foster Wallace wannabes. The bad news is that many of the newcomers are not yet skilled. There’s a certain unevenness, then, to what is already a mixed bag. Some of the poetry seems intended not for the page but the open-mike slam (“The rape joke is that you had been drinking wine coolers. Wine coolers! Who drinks wine coolers? People who get raped, according to the rape joke”), while some of the prose seems not quite finished. Much work of whatever genre thrills in the droppage of the f-bomb (“What’s going on here, Pete? What the fuck? / What the fuck yourself.”; “Gonna need financing. Forget the fucking Caddy. Go higher.”). Ah, the thrill of discovering that you can swear in college (“They were someone’s sweethearts shitting on the sidewalk in the sun”); ah, the thrill of peppering a piece with rhetorical questions and passing as wise (“Is there a core or essence, there from the beginning? Or is what’s left more like fragments?”). Still, there are some fine contributions here, among them Shawn Vestal’s takedown of missionary piety (“Really, guys, that book is no more an ancient record than I am the Duke of Scotland”) and, far and away the best piece in the book, Rebecca Solnit’s rousing defense in “Mysteries of Thoreau, Unsolved” of Henry David Thoreau’s laundering habits, which brilliantly threads in notes on the deadening obnoxiousness of social media (“Having grown up with parents who believed deeply in the importance of being right and the merit of facts, I usually have to calm down and back up to realize that there is no such thing as winning an argument in this kind of situation, only escalating”).     

Useful as an annual state-of-the-art address, even if the state of the art would seem to be only middling.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-888889-72-7

Page Count: 650

Publisher: Pushcart

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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