, . . Pushcart, $35 (550pp) ISBN 978-1-888889-23-9

For almost three decades, Pushcart has provided an alternate outlet for quality small press writers, and the list of authors included in this collection of 44 stories reads like a "who's who" of successful fiction writers. Selected from work published over the past 25 years, most of the stories are by well-known figures, like John Irving, Susan Minot, Richard Ford, Raymond Carver and Joyce Carol Oates; a respectable number of lesser-known contributors, like Gayle Baney Whittier and Katherine Min, are squeezed in between old favorites. On the whole, the collection reflects a bias toward American authors who rely heavily on well-developed narrative in their material, and the quality throughout is high. Landmark stories like Carver's "A Small Good Thing" stand comfortably alongside quirkier efforts like Padgett Powell's "Typical," Ford's "Communist" and Charles Baxter's classically constructed "Harmony of the World." What's missing from the collection is more than a smattering of stories from different cultures, and minority authors seem woefully underrepresented given the major movement toward multicultural fiction in the last decade. The book also contains little more than a whiff of the trend toward experimentation taken up by authors of avant-garde stories and "short-shorts," which have become a staple of many collections in the last few years. That omission seems especially startling considering that many experimental authors get their start in the world of the small press. Still, this is a rewarding and satisfying effort that lands squarely in the mainstream of quality fiction, despite the founder's claim that Pushcart authors represent the "secret life of our culture." (Oct. 15)

Forecast:Pushcart's reputation will make this collection stand out, as will the roster of big-name contributors.