THE PUSHCARY PRIZE, 2001 XXV

LITERATURE IN ANTHOLOGY EDITED BY BILL HENDERSON

Pushcart Press, 2001
ISBN: 1-888889-27-6
See also: Another Perspective on Ron Carlson's "The Ordinary Son"

Bill Henderson opens this 25th Anniversary Edition of The Pushcart Prize with the Prize’s intriguing history, the obstacles the Prize has faced and overcome, proving its worth. Without federal grants and profitable funding, but with the assistance of those who believe in its value, the Pushcart has survived an undersized budget, competing and battling with the commercial industry. Mr. Henderson says that this it not only a problem of the past; the press is usually near bankruptcy: "In short, those times were very much like these times. Money attempting to stomp out value, and value popping up again here and there. Eliot Freemont-Smith, reviewer for the Village Voice, quoted in Pushcart Prize III (1978), complained ‘the treatment of writers does, I believe, get more callous every day—in newspapers, magazines and books as well. More and more accountants are taking over publishing. Numbers, leading to the holy bottom line, have always counted, but never to such an exclusionary degree.’"
        But this does not stop Mr. Henderson, nor does it stop supporters of the prize, who Mr. Henderson calls humble followers: "Keeping us humble have been the unceasing and opinionated contributions of over 200 contributing editors who annually nominate writers and their particular works that they have loved from the past year’s small press publications, For 25 years, their letters have arrived, a generous outpouring of support that has kept me at my desk with a conviction that Pushcart must be doing at least something right to deserve such unequivocal backing."
         And Mr. Henderson, like before, still works from a small hut in his backyard, heated with a space heater, a testament to his astounding dedication.
         This 25th Anniversary Edition is consistent with past Pushcart anthologies, demonstrating the fine work that writers are producing today. The many contributing editors selecting stories, essays and poems for this edition certainly did their jobs, and they did them well. Fiction Editors Jack Driscoll and Bill Henderson selected a variety of work from magazines such as Chelsea, The Southern Review, Witness, Zoetrope: All Story, The Boston Review, and the list goes on. Variety is a key element of this collection, as is the compelling and intriguing nature of each story included. "When She Is Old and I Am Famous," by Julie Orringer, selected from The Paris Review, tells the story of Mira’s jealousy of her cousin, Aida, and their attempt to understand each other, despite their differences. Glimmer Train’s "Nogales and the Bomb," by Alberto Rios is a convincing first-person narrative involving a five-year-old’s notion of a bomb, and how the reality of war affects him for life. "The Ordinary Son," by Ron Carlson, which was published in The Oxford American, compares Reed’s ordinary life with his genius family members, his complications spilling out onto the page. In "When It’s You," from The Threepenny Review, Fred Leebon tells a stunning second-person narrative, a man’s perspective of his wife’s terminal illness and her approaching death. And work from the late Eudora Welty finds a place in this edition; "The Doll" from The Georgia Review (which first appeared in The Tanager in June of 1936) shows Marie’s apprehension in her relationship with fiancˇ Charles, and it reveals a charming resolution in which Marie and Charles face their fears. And, from DoubleTake, "The Anointed", by Kathleen Hill, is a first-person account of a girl’s admiration of her music teacher, Miss Hughes, the girl’s discovery of Norman’s secret, and how they break their "silence."
         A dazzling collection of essays fills this edition, as well, selected by Essays Editor, Anthony Brandt. Bret Lott’s memoir, "Toward Humility" from Fourth Genre is a heartwarming account of Mr. Lott’s struggle with his work, a friend’s death, and the circumstances enveloping around his novel as book-of-the-month. With humor and sincerity, Jeffrey Hammond describes his frustrations and arguments as a teacher of Milton in his essay, "Milton at the Bat" from The Antioch Review. And Nancy McCabe’s striking memoir from Prairie Schooner, "The End of the Tunnel," tells of Ms. McCabe’s tragic encounter with Flashlight Man, and how she overcomes her fear, and her sense of powerlessness.
         Last, but of course not least, poetry, selected by Billy Collins and Joan Murray, is also perplexing and alluring. From The Temple, Gu Si, El Templo, "How to Make Love to a Man" by Sharon Doubiago, the provocative imagery and language fulfills its title well. "Seven Roses" by Frank X. Gaspar, from The Georgia Review, is a heartwarming poem of a gardener’s ambivalent love for his roses. And Greg Rappleye’s "From the Vegas Cantos" from Mississippi Review is an astounding narrative poem, which resembles a short story, fixated as it is with action and plot and striking vivid images.
         The work in this collection exceeds the limits of ordinary poetry and prose. The Pushcart Prize XXV consistently proves its worth, exceeding boundaries, delving into exciting territories and endless possibilities, and there will be more to come, as Mr. Henderson states: “Talent abounds. Grace abounds. In evidence: the 74 stunning works from 54 presses that follow. Take it from this ‘Content Provider.’ We are not going away. Quite the opposite. God willing, I intend to write my next quarter century update in 2025. But first I have to learn to count that high in roman numerals.”   

 

ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE:
Ron Carlson's 'The Ordinary Son'

Reviewed by Elizabeth Routen

In "The Ordinary Son", Ron Carlson has created one of the blandest characters ever put on paper, and therein lies the story’s peculiar power.
         Reed Landers is the son of a NASA scientist and a grassroots poet. In a family of geniuses, he is alone in his commonness. Nothing particularly meritorious underlies his conduct; his intelligence is average, his needs superficial. Reed’s siblings blossom under a strict moral diet of work and unheralded ‘sacrifice’. They eat sardines and crackers for dinner, refuse to mow their yard, and do without a refrigerator. Meanwhile, Reed, meticulously normal, rebels by choosing materialism. He aspires to average friendships, to owning a car, to physical labor.
         Though Reed narrates the story, he offers little in the way of self-examination. Instead, he is defined by a succession of small encounters with minor characters–his family, a few slight friends, his boss. They drift in and out of the story, pausing in their orbits only long enough to refine Reed’s sharp points by radiating their unequivocal realities on his unpolished manhood.
         "The Ordinary Son" is an anti-story. Mr. Carlson offers a photo negative of the everyday issues: teenage rebellion, sex, sibling rivalry, and coming of age. He looks at the spectacular with black-and white eyes that are neither awed nor mystified by what they see. He chooses shadow over detail and narrative over explanation. Placing Reed, a non-entity, among super-humans who exist in an ethereal realm of abstractions forces the reader to draw her own realities on a clean grey slate remarkable only for its flawless mediocrity. Ron Carlson, faced with brilliance, presents instead the unlikeliest of heroes: an Everyman captured in the twilight of youth, unable to escape the genius that surrounds him and painfully aware that he watches with a mind that will never aspire, nor know defeat.