I’ve been reading the Pushcart Prize anthologies for 41 years. At the beginning, I used to buy each volume. But, as the years passed, two trends emerged: the books became thicker (this volume is 640 pages) and the quality went down. Sure, there were still wonderful short stories and essays in each volume, but there was a lot of dreck, too. Especially the poetry. Terrible! In this latest volume, I can recommend Charles Baxter’s story, “Avarice” (it’s about being avarice). I liked Rebecca Makkai’s “The George Spelvin Players” which features a local little theater group with a theft problem. Jane Lancellotti has a lot to say in “If you can’t say anything nice write a one-star review.” “Taxidermy” by Vladislava Kolosova a college-student-prostitute and the Russian Rich. “Winter Wheat” is the sad story of a dysfunctional family. T. C. Boyle explores the cost of fame in “The Five-Pound Burrito.” My favorite story in this anthology is “Voltaire Night” by Deb Olin Unferth. An instructor of an Adult Education creative writing class has his class meet in a bar after the last class and play a game. He asks them to tell the worst thing that has ever happened to them. The results are shocking. “Bloodlines” by Lauren Slater tells the story of a troubled marriage that gets into more trouble when the husband and the wife get their genome sequenced.

As I said, there are some very good stories and essays in this volume. But, you have to search for them amid the filler. GRADE: B
The story of a true artist / Dominica Phetteplace
I sing you for an apple / Eric Wilson
Elk / Robert Wrigley
The G.R.I.E.F. / Micah Stack
Anna May Wong blows out sixteen candles / Sally Wen Mao
The hornet among us / Paul Crenshaw
The spring forecast / Shelley Wong
Avarice / Charles Baxter
Scream (or never minding) / Lia Purpura
Still when I picture it the face of God is a white man’s face / Shane McCrae
The George Spelvin Players / Rebecca Makkai
The revolt of the turtles / Stephen Dunn
If you can’t say anything nice write a one-star review / Jane Lancellotti
Basement delivery / Emily Skillings
Naming happiness / Monte Reel
The antique blacks / Adrian Matejka
Taxidermy / Vladislava Kolosova
The beating heart of the wristwatch / Martin Espada
Winter wheat / Doug Crandell
Consider Oedipus’ father / David Tomas Martinez
The mushroom queen / Liz Ziemska
Cocaine / Alex Dimitrov
Beets / Cate Hennessey
The tallgrass shuffles / Sea Sharp
The Devil’s Triangle / Emma Duffy-Comparone
The brain is not the United States / Elizabeeth Scanlon
New technologies of reading / Angela Woodward
From please bury me in this / Allison Benis White
The five-pound burrito / T.C. Boyle
Daddy dozens / Jamila Woods
Dr. J / Kalpana Narayanan
Pluto’s Gate : Mississippi / James Kimbrell
Forty-two / Lisa Taddeo
We would never sleep / David Hernandez
Priest / Erin McGraw
Walk / Jane Springer
Voltaire night / Deb Olin Unferth
More than this / David Kirby
Narrator / Elizabeth Tallent
100 bells / Tarfia Faizullah
Trash food / Chris Offutt
From thank you terror / Mathias Svalina
The line agent Pascal / Daniel Mason
The Luoyang poem / Ye Chun
The physics of turtles / Jenny Hendrix
Etta James at the Audubon Ballroom / Patricia Spears Jones
A local’s guide to dating in Slocomb County / Chris Drangle
Spiritual evaluation / Taije Silverman
Finders keepers / Jenn Shapland
Hurricane song / Cecily Parks
Things I know to be true / Kendra Fortmeyer
Forgotten sound / Melissa Broder
After reading / Peter Bichsel
Idyll / Richie Hofmann
Fail again / David J. Unger
I dream of horses eating cops / Joshua Jennifer Espinoza
Midterm / Leslie Johnson
The raptor / Charles Holdefer
Resting place / Kate Levin
The invitation / Barry Lopez
Hospice / Jean Valentine
Mistress Mickle all at sea / Elizabeth McCracken
Laika / Sara Batkie
The Carnation Milk Palace / Melissa Pritchard
Cross your fingers God bless / Ron Currie Jr.
The tradition / Jericho Brown
Blue of the world / Douglas W. Milliken
Dritter Klasse ohne Fensterscheiben / Steve Almond
Cleaning the ghost room / Tatiana Forero Puerta
Safe home / Daniel Peña
Bloodlines / Lauren Slater


  1. Jeff Meyerson

    Like you, I got discouraged when the Pushcart books got bigger and bigger. I guess if you can pick through them for the good stuff, they are still worth reading, but you have more patience than most of us. I agree about the poetry. Yikes!

    1. george Post author

      Jeff, I used to buy the PUSHCART PRIZE volume every year. I have over a dozen of them down in the basement. But once the PUSHCART PRIZE annual edition swelled up to the size of a brick, I stopped buying. My local public library buys these books, but I won’t anymore. Too much filler.

    1. george Post author

      Rick, the Good Stuff in PUSHCART PRIZE XLI is excellent (A material!), but the filler stuff is in the C range. My grade averages the Good and the Mediocre.

  2. Todd Mason

    I suspect “George Speivin” as a name is a bit of a reference to THE DEUCE-era porn superstar Georgina Spelvin.

    I’ve read exactly one decent T. C. Boyle story in the forty years I’ve been coming across his stories in various best of the year anthologies and fiction magazines. I’ve not been keeping up wit the annuals, but if I get this one, I’ll give this Boyle a g(lance).

    If the poetry particularly puts you off, do you ever give the eclectic fiction-only annuals a try these years (BASS, O. HENRY, BEST BRITISH SHORT STORIES)? Or any of the other annuals?

    1. george Post author

      Todd, I used to read plenty of those YEAR’S BEST literary collections, but I’m only reading SF and Fantasy YEAR’S BEST now. Too much dreck in the literary anthologies. I don’t think most people know how to write a poem anymore.


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