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Southwest Review – Fall 2005

Joshua Harmon’s lead-off essay is titled “Live Free (Or Die Trying).” Yes, it’s a skewed reference to New Hampshire, and to the political divide in the U.S. and the secessionist fantasies entertained by blue-staters. Yet Harmon, a self-described “Mass-hole” and shrewd observer of place (see AGNI No. 60), discovers that voting patterns are not so easily explained when he visits a region he knows well, Coos County, NH—an otherwise conservative area in the rural mountains that John Kerry won in 2004.

Joshua Harmon’s lead-off essay is titled “Live Free (Or Die Trying).” Yes, it’s a skewed reference to New Hampshire, and to the political divide in the U.S. and the secessionist fantasies entertained by blue-staters. Yet Harmon, a self-described “Mass-hole” and shrewd observer of place (see AGNI No. 60), discovers that voting patterns are not so easily explained when he visits a region he knows well, Coos County, NH—an otherwise conservative area in the rural mountains that John Kerry won in 2004. It’s as much about analysis as trying to remember Coos (CO-ahs) personally, and the one thing that tugs at Harmon is the widespread real estate development that has made the county almost unrecognizable. He concludes: “That we feel truly free only through ownership and exclusion seems an accurate summary of the 2004 election.” If the essay is initially political, ultimately it becomes something else, rich in detail and still cautionary. Which seems apt enough to be the Southwest Review’s working formula. It applies also to Hugh Sheehy’s short story, “Harold Plays the Pauper,” which pokes gentle fun at 1950s university romantics, as well as Israeli writer Aharon Appelfeld’s tale of a man’s struggles against the will and memory of his parents. As for avant-garde composer Luigi Nono, I’m not averse to experimental music, but Wayne Koestenbaum’s interlude hams it up too much for me (though that may be the whole point). To borrow a line from Bill Christophersen on the bluegrass fiddle, “Half the challenge is knowing when not to play.” Ninety years on, the Southwest Review continues to showcase cornucopias of explorative writing. [Southwest Review, Southern Methodist University, P.O. Box 750374, Dallas TX 75275-0374. Single issue $6. www.southwestreview.org] —Christopher Mote

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