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Oxford American – Spring 2006

This glossy, rightfully called “The New Yorker of the South,” has folded three times yet never lost enough of its creative momentum to keep it down. Dedicated to the “Best of the South,” this issue not only features colorful pieces by regular contributors, but defensive editor Mark Smirnoff actually kept his introduction short enough (Issue 52 featured a 7-page rant about a hoax) to fit a 25-page special section filled with inspired odes to the people, places and flavors that make the South distinct: a drive-in theater that also sells guns; a family of 16 eerie cemetery statues — including a horse, fox and deer — all facing east, in Kentucky; a quirky tribute to actor Warran Oates by hilarious and not-yet-adequately appreciated Jack Pendarvis; funeral culture and a dying relative; a butterscotch pie. Laced with luminous photographs, picking a favorite from these would like trying to pick your favorite single flavor in a bowl of jambalaya.

This glossy, rightfully called “The New Yorker of the South,” has folded three times yet never lost enough of its creative momentum to keep it down. Dedicated to the “Best of the South,” this issue not only features colorful pieces by regular contributors, but defensive editor Mark Smirnoff actually kept his introduction short enough (Issue 52 featured a 7-page rant about a hoax) to fit a 25-page special section filled with inspired odes to the people, places and flavors that make the South distinct: a drive-in theater that also sells guns; a family of 16 eerie cemetery statues — including a horse, fox and deer — all facing east, in Kentucky; a quirky tribute to actor Warran Oates by hilarious and not-yet-adequately appreciated Jack Pendarvis; funeral culture and a dying relative; a butterscotch pie. Laced with luminous photographs, picking a favorite from these would like trying to pick your favorite single flavor in a bowl of jambalaya.

The OA’s regular “columns and departments” are always stellar and frankly what make the magazine a national literary treasure. Roy Blount, JR’s “The Best of Bad Gaynelle,” for example, is a riotous sampling of work by a playfully unapologetic newswoman who, over 30 years, fabricated human interest stories for the “Only in Our Southland” column, proving that her fiction was as compelling and indistinguishable from the actual news. John T. Edge profiles roving waffle and peanut vendors, a career mayonnaise-maker, and the sassy cookbook author Marie Rudisill who, thanks to cupping Hugh Grant’s boot-ay on The Tonight Show, will be most widely remembered as “The Fruitcake Lady.”

This issue contains two intriguing “Writers on Writing” features, one about why Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find” might be the best Southern short story ever written, the other an author’s agonizing search for the source of a mysterious domestic racket. Not surprisingly, there are Hurricane Katrina pieces, one of which is the issue’s weakest. “Love in the Ruins” follows Ada Liana Bidiuc’s trip to gut New Orleans’ houses. Motivated by an inter-semester slump where she was “skulking around the house… wishing I were dead,” this spring breaker traveled south to help, but backdropped against our nation’s worst natural disaster, all Bidiuc’s nighttime drinking and lusting after shirtless Habit for Humanity boys make her good work seem like nothing more than a way to pass time and raise her fragile confidence. As always, the issue also features new fiction and nonfiction. We can only pray this uniquely Southern magazine never folds again, and that, if it does, it will rise Phoenix-like from the ashes back on a regular publication cycle in perpetuity. [www.oxfordamerican.org] –Aaron Gilbreath

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