Dark, dark, dark is much of the work in this issue, starting with the feature on artist Christin Couture, against whose eerie paintings the rest of the magazine’s contents seems to echo.
Dark, dark, dark is much of the work in this issue, starting with the feature on artist Christin Couture, against whose eerie paintings the rest of the magazine’s contents seems to echo. In these portraits, infants are dressed in elaborate Victorian garb, looking very much like the subjects of those post-mortem daguerreotypes popular among the 19th century bourgeoisie, when infant mortality rates were much higher than today. These sinister cherubs peer out of somber canvases (Couture’s palette is dominated by blues, greys, browns, and a thousand dreary whites) with eyes that hint at maleficent omniscience and hands that fondle such unlikely props as riding crops, gold watches, and something that looks rather like a little knife. Tucked in next to Couture’s creepy darlings is a thought-provoking essay on dolls by the poet Nance Van Winkel, in which she explores the metaphysics of dolls by describing her godchild’s rough play with them), recalling her own childhood memories of one in particular, and invoking Rilke (who had such an unhealthy obsession with them). Still more elegant creeps can be found in Robert Wexelblatt’s post-apocalyptic love story, “Tinder Box.” On the quirkier but still darkish side of things, Elizabeth Searle’s story “Sick Play” explores one woman’s fixation with exhibitionism, S&M, and powerlessness. More funny than dark, yet with a decent dose of black humor, is an essay by John Allen that chronicles the surprising highs and lows of a pair of enormous polyester underwear inscribed with the warning “DANGER POTHOLES!” and decorated—as this entire issue might be—with a skull and bones. [The Massachusetts Review, South College, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA 01003-7140. Single issue $8. www.massreview.org] —Kim Drain