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The Kenyon Review – Spring 2006

There’s a lot of death in this issue. A lot of death. Also: depression, senility, thoughts (and acts) of suicide, and many, many old people. If, as Andrei Tarkovsky said, “the aim of art is to prepare a person for death,” you’ll get some good practice here. Personally, I prefer art that prepares me for something else. I don’t know what, exactly – call it mystery.

There’s a lot of death in this issue. A lot of death. Also: depression, senility, thoughts (and acts) of suicide, and many, many old people. If, as Andrei Tarkovsky said, “the aim of art is to prepare a person for death,” you’ll get some good practice here. Personally, I prefer art that prepares me for something else. I don’t know what, exactly – call it mystery. But there’s some of that in these pages, too, most notably in a short story by Ron Rash called “Their Ancient, Glittering Eyes.” Though it begins with a yawn (two boys telling some old guys hanging out at the Riverside Gas and Grocery about the gigantic fish that they just saw), and progresses along fairly predictable lines, a sense of underlying significance grows and grows, just like the proportions of the behemoth at the story’s center. This fish accrues a kind of mythical heft with each paragraph of Rash’s unassuming prose, even as the animal eventually claims its place in everyday reality. This story alone is worth the $10 cover price, but there’s other excellent work as well, including three delicately brutal poems by Michael Collier, and a new translation (by Carol Cosman) of Camus’ “The Adulterous Wife.” This tale of Janine, a middle-aged, swollen-ankled, overfed and underloved woman, is appropriately claustrophobic, locked, as it is, inside her disappointed head. In her sudden quest to attain that state a Buddhist might call “non-attachment,” Janine encounters eternity (or nothingness—the distinction is unclear) under the Algerian night sky where “garlands of stars” are formed and shattered, like “sparkling icicles,” like “shifting fires,” before falling in bunches and “extinguishing themselves in the stones of the desert.” It’s a beautiful, haunting read. The Kenyon Review leans toward the highbrow, and there are many pieces here that might strike some as too cerebral (as they did me), but there are at least a few works that, like the gleaming scutes of a certain fish, are “better than gold.” [https://www.kenyonreview.org]

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