(Re)Defining America, One Story at a Time

American Fiction, Volume 12
Edited by Kristen J. Tsetsi
Guest Judge: Josip Novakovich

Review by Emily  Wojcik
November 28, 2012

Fiction collections are a tricky business, and none more so than those that aim to compile “the best” of anything—in this case, “the best unpublished stories by emerging writers,” as the title page promises. I say “tricky” because if one is prone to cynicism (as this critic is occasionally), the urge to be reactionary can be difficult to subdue. What makes these stories the “best,” and by what standards? How do you define “emerging” anyway? And does the “American” of the title lend the stories a yet unearned canonical gravitas (recalling, say, Ernest Hemingway or Raymond Carver), or does it simply provoke an arbitrary nationalism?

These are the kinds of questions that came to mind when I received the aforementioned collection, the latest in an annual series published by New Rivers Press, from Minnesota State University Moorhead. New Rivers is dedicated to publishing “imaginative work from emerging and established writers,” a potentially risky goal when it comes to short fiction. The stories published in American Fiction Volume 12 represent the winner, runners up, and honorable mentions of the New Rivers annual fiction contest, judged this year by Josip Novakovich, a Croatian-American-Canadian writer for whom nationality is more a problem to be wrestled with than a point of pride. Indeed, given his own background and style, Novakovich is an intriguing choice for judging such a collection, and the resulting stories challenge many of the snarky assumptions behind my initial reservations. Continue reading