, . . Pushcart Press, $35 (632pp) ISBN 978-1-888889-35-2

Scouring small magazines and presses for the best of the year's fiction, poetry and nonfiction, Henderson offers up his longest collection yet. Though length and quality are not directly correlated—a substantial number of navel-gazing short stories might easily have been eliminated—several gems crop up in the rough. Two of the best pieces are personal essays inspired by their authors' unusual jobs. In "Line," John Hale describes how his experiences as a surveyor changed his way of seeing things; Jeffrey A. Lockwood's "To Be Honest" is a cheeky account of an entomologist's efforts to offer agricultural justification for the mass murder of grasshoppers by the application of pesticides and the introduction of "natural" enemies. Some of the standout stories include "Cabeza" by Monique de Varennes, in which the housewife protagonist buys a pig's head at the market and leaves it in the refrigerator for days, disturbing her family, and Karl Iagnemma's "On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction," a mathematically precise love story set on a frigidly cold Michigan campus ("What a world!... where a failed engineer with a crooked nose can skate couples with a syrup-haired woman who smells archival"). It is the excitement of discovering promising new writers that draws most readers to the Pushcart, but several better-known names appear here as well, including Joyce Carol Oates, Louise Glück, Mary Jo Bang, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Bradford Morrow, Ben Marcus, Robert Pinsky, Melanie Rae Thon, Aimee Bender and Richard Bausch. Though tougher standards might have produced a smoother selection, there is much to appreciate in this 27th annual collection. (Dec.)