Review :: Fourth Genre – Fall 2008
Volume 10 Number 2
“I was looking for hope. I was trying to find a durable kind of hope to direct myself toward in order to pull together that broken piece of my life,” says environmental activist and essayist William DeBuys in his interview with Fourth Genre editor Robert Root. I read, always, looking for that durable hope, and I suspect I am not alone, but I am not sure I have ever encountered a more concise or precise description of this yearning. DeBuys is equally astute and humble in efforts here to define the forms and meaning of his own work and of the larger task of documenting the natural world about which he writes.
Root’s interview with DeBuy’s is joined by 13 equally satisfying prose contributions (“Essays and Memoirs”), a captivating photo essay by Michael Coles, “Rumor from Monrovia,” and both full-length and capsule reviews. I have come to expect strong, confident writing, novel approaches to what might otherwise be ordinary or, at least, common concerns, and distinct voices from Fourth Genre, and this issue does not disappoint.
Bonnie Jo Campbell considers her mother’s death in the context of her addiction to smoking, examining the larger issue of what smoke and smoking looks and feels like in various places and circumstances. Priscilla Long explores the relationship, credibly (believe it or not!) between the common object of a bucket and the on-going war in Iraq. Sara Lippmann contributes one of the finest essays about life in a nursing home I’ve every encountered, sharply observed, unsentimental, and evocative, with details that remind us of what we already know and show how we can know them differently. Lisa VanAucken manages (believe it or not!) to make cockroaches interesting. Betty Ruddy links a family story with a life of reading in an appealing personal essay.
The photo essay by Michael Coles is beautifully composed, both the striking, unforgettable black and white photos and his prose. His photos might inspire pity, were they less artfully imagined and less technically savvy. Instead, they inspire awe. Reviews, for the most part, are intelligent and useful, often very much like the work in the rest of the issue, a satisfying balance between the personal and worldly, intimately felt and broadly observed. If you don’t have time for more than a few literary magazines these days, as you’re trying to keep up with the political and financial news, don’t skip this one.
Fourth Genre Volume 10 Number 2, Fall 2008 reviewed by Sima Rabinowitz