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Other Voices – Spring/Summer 2006

Reading the 44th installation of this Chicago journal is an exercise in patience. Its stories start slow, build carefully, and almost always finish on a terrific note. The subject matter ranges all over the spectrum; the tone remains entrenched in realism. When this quotidian stylistic blend sinks too deep into structure the result can be a little workshoppy; oftentimes an OV story commits to a single metaphorical strand of development that, while turned smartly at the end, loses the reader before getting there. Even the principal exception to this rule – Tao Lin’s Daniel Handleresque “Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money than There Exists” – seems to be gazing playfully out at the rows of “normal” fictive prose lines which will follow it. What’s interesting is that Lin’s story, while wildly entertaining line-by-line, is also one of the few that fails to deliver a forceful ending punch.

Reading the 44th installation of this Chicago journal is an exercise in patience. Its stories start slow, build carefully, and almost always finish on a terrific note. The subject matter ranges all over the spectrum; the tone remains entrenched in realism. When this quotidian stylistic blend sinks too deep into structure the result can be a little workshoppy; oftentimes an OV story commits to a single metaphorical strand of development that, while turned smartly at the end, loses the reader before getting there. Even the principal exception to this rule – Tao Lin’s Daniel Handleresque “Love is a Thing on Sale for More Money than There Exists” – seems to be gazing playfully out at the rows of “normal” fictive prose lines which will follow it. What’s interesting is that Lin’s story, while wildly entertaining line-by-line, is also one of the few that fails to deliver a forceful ending punch.

The only story that really exploits its realist arc with comprehensive success is Brigid Pasulka’s “How to Be A Dissident” – with is cunning blend of Russian references, cultural commentary, and disinclined romanticism. Perhaps it does so for me because the setting is new; I’ve never been to Russia, and Pasulka exploits my ignorance so obviously (yet so well), that one wonders if Benjamin Kunkel’s recent discussion of the “perennial novel,” and its continual refreshment by literary “peripheries” can be imported from novels to stories without a steep tariff. Even if so, to suggest that the stories in OV are perennial and fraught with the manufactured mediocrity Kunkel suggests as their trademark, would be a disservice: readers who savor slow buildups and revealing conclusions will find much to celebrate here. A few favorites: Laura Krughoff’s unsentimental tale of a pre-pubescent stripper in “Skinned,” Catherine Brady’s intensely-personal domestic depictions in “Slender Little Thing,” and Elizabeth Crane’s “What Our Week Was Like,” an exercise in groupthink par excellence.

There are several reviews of independent books in the back. Strangely homogenous, they tempt the misconception that OV’s overarching aesthetic is a one-crop farm. In fact, the journal scatters a wide range of imaginative seeds through its waving, realistic fields, cultivating them with the workmanlike steadiness characteristic of one of Middle America’s most respected venues for short fiction. [http://webdelsol.com/Other_Voices/] –Miles Clark

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