kw: continued review, story reviews, collections, short stories, poetry, literature
The final third of Pushcart Prize XL, edited by Bill Henderson and (many) others, contains three stories I thought worth mentioning:
"Constance Bailey in the Year of Monica Lewinsky" by Sarah Vallance is nonfiction, evoking a year she spent visiting an impoverished, elderly black woman and attaining a loving friendship with her. While there are several threads to this, the chief is that being unabashedly oneself tends to lower barriers, given time. To one such as I, who spent decades behind a constructed personality (but no more), this is refreshing.
Meghan O'Gieblyn presents herself as a former Evangelical Christian in "Hell"; it presents her experience the weirdo fringe of the evangelical movement, those who tend to have the bumper sticker, "God said it, I believe it, and that settles it." Trouble is, the source of the "God said it" part is typically an over-enthusiastic, theologically undereducated preacher. Ms O'Gieblyn begins with an interesting description of a project by Chris Herron to re-brand Hell. This is actually real, though it is an ironic exercise in public relations. Kind of like a Fabergé egg: much prettier than the original and entirely non-functional. Her theme is the watering down of the concept of Hell, such that now it is never mentioned in many congregations. This parallels her own disillusionment with evangelicalism. I can't resist quoting a wise Bible teacher: "Do not limit the breadth of God. When He is loving, He is very, very loving, and when He is severe, He is very, very severe."
One never knows what will resolve the hurt in a heart. In the story "Night Movers" by Perry Janes, Zeke (first person voice) and his boss Tye labor overnight to clear out houses of all sizes that need emptying in a hurry. One of several reasons why is on the last day before a foreclosure that a homebuyer has fought and lost. Zeke's brother recently died in a horrible accident. After an extra-busy night of emptying a veritable mansion, the two find a large school bell in a dank basement. This is the kind of bell that usually requires a crane to move. To say more would spoil a unique resolution.
I'd like to stop here, but I must mention one other story. It is not just fiction, it is pathological fiction. Character assassination of President Reagan, of the worst kind, attributing thoughts to him that he could not have thought, motivations that are so below reason I must conclude that the author is a stranger to fact and to reason. Neither author nor title is worth mention, lest this miserable person accidentally profit therefrom.
Sturgeon's Law states, "90% of everything is junk." So if a little junk got into a collection that I consider the best yearly anthology, it is no surprise. In the Pushcart Prize series, there is way less than 90% junk.