Talking about surprise, there is a lot to be said for picking up a book at random. I used to live in Cork, Ireland, which still hosts an International Short Story Festival, and used to have the Frank O’Connor Award, the biggest award for a collection (which Carys Davies’ The Redemption of Galen Pike won, by the way – it’s all connected!). So charity shops there often had a good few collections on their shelves, from the copies sent to the judging panel, I assume.
Anyway, I picked Andy Mozina’s book without knowing the first thing about it, and it was good. ‘Cowboy Pile’, the first story in the book, a five-page funny piece, starts like this:
Out on the ranges, out West, you get cowboy piles. Mounds of human cowboys. A cowboy lies on the ground (for no reason, it seems), and then someone lies across him, and then a third guy piles on. Then one after another. Sometimes you’ll see a pile from the Interstate. If the wind’s right and your window is down and your engine’s running gently, you might hear six guns fired into the air or the barely audible hooting and yowling of a convocation of cowboys. If you’re lucky, ahead of you on the highway you’ll see a pickup with a pair of men wearing ten-gallon hats. Follow those gents. Exit.
First published in Beloit Fiction Journal. Collected in The Women Were Leaving The Men, Wayne State University Press, 2007. Read online here