When I was in high school, my mom, who I adore, would call me at boarding school and ask me what I was reading. I would sigh and be fifteen and say stuff with a long, drawn out, exasperated sigh. I just couldn’t be bothered. She would get frustrated, understandably, because she was genuinely interested in what I was reading. She’d say, “Only a dull mind will describe what it has consumed vaguely.” I’d promptly stop being a little bitch and we’d have a nice chat about what I was reading. Â We still talk about books nearly 20 years later. I generally send her a copy of what I’m reading and we chit and we chat and I love her perspective on things because she’s wicked smart and funny and if something sucks she has a colorful way of letting it be known. It’s a Caribbean thing. Guest blogger? Perhaps! I was going to just write that I read some great stuff this week, but then I thought, “What would my mother say?” Here’s what I read this week:
The White Road, Tania Hershman
The eponymous story of this collection is worth the price of admission. It is, without a doubt, one of the best short stories I’ve ever read. A woman, at the end of the world, who has endured the loss of a child but more than that, seen his dead body, that death from his own hand, and so she finds a way to see nothing but bright white ever again. I was genuinely moved and shocked by this story. So remarkable. This collection has many many stories in it. I thought that the longer stories were more successful because they were more compelling. The very short stories were well-written, but often times somewhat unsatisfying. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something I noticed throughout.
Many of the stories were inspired by articles in New Scientist. After I read the epigraphs, I generally expected to find a literal connection between the epigraph an the story but in each instance, I was surprised by how the epigraph ended up informing the story it preceded. Another interesting attribute of this collection is the range of scenarios and settings. Many writers write the same story in different ways in a given collection, but in The White Road, Hershman has written many unique tales in locales from Antarctica to England.
I quite enjoyed Evie and the Arfids, about a woman working in a mysterious factory doing mysterious things, but really it is a story about loneliness and middle age and Evie’s small and sad but sometimes charming life was so expertly captured. I also loved The Incredible Exploding Victor—a very charming story about a boy who is being overfed by a mother scarred by her experiences during WWII and how his best friend friend tries to save his life. The one constant through each of these stories is the care Hershman has taken with her characters. This was a collection that was written with love.
DOGZPLOT Summer ’09
This issue is the debut of Lauren Becker as fiction editor and it is a fine, fine collection of writing. Christina Kapp’s Birth, is perhaps my favorite story from the issue because the story is vivid and lush and bittersweet. How Kapp describes the protagonist just after her water has broken and in the throes of a contraction, “This one left her wet, with water falling from her eyes and dripping down her legs. Her belly was firm and round as a skull between her hands.” The entire story is filled with such a deliberate and sensuous use of language. I found it remarkable.
Brutes by BJ Hollars, is easily another favorite. The short story is a stark and truly brilliant portrayal of the destruction adolescents are capable of. The narrative is delivered in so straightforward a manner, it is truly chilling. The final lines will stay with you for quite some time.
Could they comprehend their destruction?
But they knew.
They always knew what to do when they got there.
I was equally impressed by Hollars’ story The Regatta. In both of these stories, he captures the physicality of boys who are not yet men, as well as the restless and destructive energy that often consumes them.
Josh Kleinberg’s Choose Your Own Because was unexpected. The story plays with form in a really interesting way at the end and I liked (something I often like) which was the telling of an old story (drinking problem) in a new way (choose how it all ends).
In Hallie Elizabeth Newton’s story Krazy Glue I read one of my favorite lines ever. “Most men I know have seen me naked. It should probably stop.” I love the line because it implies remorse in a woman who is not at all remorseful or repentant. This meandering story is oddly heartbreaking, and very much in the mode of the detached narrator, a style I quite enjoy.
As a whole, I really enjoyed the shape of the fiction selections. I’m really looking forward to future issues.
We also have the first issue of Reflective Dog, the nonfiction arm of the DOGZPLOT literary empire. I’m still working my way through the issue, but Barry Graham’s essay Conclusion: Death to Superman is exceptional and unflinching and uncomfortable in its examination of race and class. I really hope it is widely read. It is the best essay I’ve read this year.
It is the range of writing in each issue that I enjoy most in Storyglossia. I am consistently impressed by the blend of experimental and more traditional stories and how well it all works as a whole. Low Tide by Jennine CapÃƒÂ³ Crucet was one of those stories where not a lot happens but a big story is told. Low Tide tells the story of Yamila and Hector, an almost middle-aged woman and a slightly older man with a bad leg, polio. They’re spending the day at the beach and through Yamila’s reflections and actions, we see a woman struggling with age, perhaps settling for less, a woman who thinks she’s better than the man she’s with and a man who sees her as she really is. Â The prose is dense and incredibly detailed. The senses of place and culture are so finely evoked. I cannot wait to read more from this writer.
I’ve been hearing Jessa Marsh’s name everywhere lately. I enjoyed her stories in recent issues of decomP and Monkeybicycle online and was not disappointed with her latest offering, All Falls Down. Everyone remembers building forts as a child, but in this story, the narrator is building a fort throughout her apartment, eager to share her creation with a boyfriend who doesn’t come home. As she’s building this grand thing, their relationship is breaking down. The way Marsh handles the metaphor is artful. It’s a nice nice story. Also notable in this issue was Andrea Kneeland’s Sponge. I’m still reading through this issue but there are so many heavy hitters in this issue I know that each story is going to be brilliant.
I am also a big fan of Caketrain. I’ve read their chapbooks and have found them to a one to be spectacular. This issue was a bit of a challenging read for me. It was full of complex experimental writing, often surreal. I could see how the issue worked as a whole. This was definitely a finely curated collection of work. I was also introduced to many writers with whom I am not familiar. Ben Mirov’s Ghost of a Morning After You Left Me is a remarkable very short story that speaks to the loss of a relationship without being literal about it. Michele Kingery’s Savant was poetic and unique. Jac Jemc’s Like Lightning, a story that’s a different kind of bee’s life, had a beautiful last line. “A gritty and lyrical silence rocks the room as the lighht of six unborn stars bursts in to shine full sentences of future upon her.” Brian Foley’s Extensions was so visceral. A man, shaving, finds a gray hair that refuses to be pulled. “Its roots seem deep like a tree, unraveling from an unknown spool immersed in the soil of my skull.” The most remarkable aspect of this issue is the powerful way in which language is used in nearly every poem, story and piece of writing that defies categorization. I’m looking forward to reading the next issue.
Opium: The Infinity Issue
A great deal has been made of the new issue of Opium, with the story embedded in the cover that will take 1,000 years to read. Any gimmick that gets readers interested in literary magazines is a good gimmick, and I respect that the cover of the issue is a conceptual art project, but it is one of those things that I don’t get. What is the point of writing a story that can’t be read? Only, the story can sort of be read if you hold the cover to a bright light at an angle, so the concept kind of doesn’t work anyway.
That’s a minor bone to pick. This was the first issue of Opium I’ve read and I loved everything about it. At the beginning of each story or poem they tell you how long it will take you to read and I’m the kind of competitive psycho who then times herself to see if she can beat the suggested reading time so not only is the writing great, the magazine is interactive and now we all know I’m a freak. This is a magazine that is both edited and designed which I really appreciate. Author bios are included at the end of each piece which I also appreciate. There was a lot to enjoy in this issue–short stories, poems, 500 word memoir contest winners and runners up, and a graphic novel/cartoon/comic section. Like Monkeybicycle 6, this was an issue where I loved every poem. That is so rare a thing that it is worth mentioning.
The 500-word memoirs were the real highlight of this issue. PANK 3 contributor Rahcel Yoder’s essay Creatures was very poignant more for what is left unsaid, as her writing always is. I was most impressed by Sean Toner’s Family Stew, a recipe for familial dysfunction that begins “Ingredients: 1 man, 4 wives, 1 boy, 1 dozen girlfriends, 1 daughter, 2 children from previous stew.” Toner manages to summarize a difficult life with such an economy of language. I’m surprised his memoir didn’t win the competition. This issue also included advice writers have received and I’ll be going back to these gems again and again. One piece of advice Â given to David Backer by Norman Nathan was, “The only bad manuscript is the unsubmitted manuscript.” That made me laugh. It also made me think that perhaps Norman Nathan has never had the privilege of reading through a slush pile.