In Keith R. Denny’s short, remarkable dream-sequence of a story, “Ulrika,” the reader is swiftly trammeled up in the twisty mind of a would-be fiction writer for whom “the possibility of narrative is machine-gunned down in the street like a mad dog.” Lucky for us, the narrator’s self-effacing assertion does not hold true for “Ulrika” nor any of the other stories in the wonderfully narrative-packed Beloit Fiction Journal.
The issue starts off strong with David Crouse’s “The Observable Universe” in which an estranged brother and sister who share a tragic childhood reunite amidst the surreal hubbub of a science-fiction convention. The brother, who’s been mugged just a few hours previous, comes complete with abraded forehead, black eyes, and bruises up and down his arms, and refuses to go the hospital – a concise and effective means by which Crouse acquaints us with the character’s overall, long-denied damage. “He had been a tourist in his father’s pain for a long time; he lacked the imagination to really live there.”
The very next story, “Everything Will Ache the Same,” by David Harris Ebenbach, uncannily expands upon some of Crouse’s themes, beginning: “My first fight since 8th grade happens on the same night I get mugged on the corner of 48th and Osage.” And it seems that muggings, both actual and psychological, remain a subtle, probably unintentional motif throughout this issue.
An extremely fine story by Joseph Bathani, “Thy Womb Jesus,” is a powerfully nuanced depiction of a small family in the grip of the mother’s manic-depressive tendencies. The final story here, the virtuosic “Love” by Aaron J. Altose, is a bit of pure imaginative whimsy in which the narrator recounts his helpless enamourment of a woman who does not have a mouth and ingests food through a hole in her stomach.
This issue’s 285 pages of pure sweep-me-away fiction will firmly instate Beloit Fiction Journal in your roster of favored literary magazines.
Beloit Fiction Journal Volume 18, Spring 2005 reviewed by Mark Cunningham