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Tin House – Summer 2011

Volume 12 Number 4

Summer 2011


Jeff Vande Zande

The recently published “Summer Reading” issue of Tin House is… well, it is…

The recently published “Summer Reading” issue of Tin House is… well, it is…

Why is it hard to finish that sentence? It reveals a problem with language—especially language that is trying to describe superior writing. The best words are all suspect, having been used far too many times on the back covers of books. Too often, the books are only mediocre, and so words like “fantastic” or “spectacular” or “stunning” become so much hyperbole. We distrust such words, doubting that a piece of written work can actually live up to them.

Please, though, make no doubt about it, when I say that this issue of Tin House is brilliant, I mean it in every sense of illumination and intelligence that the word “brilliant” evokes.

The short stories and poems reflect a conscientious editorial team at work. Karen Shepard’s story “Don’t Know Where, Don’t Know When” offers its reader a woman who lives in the apartment beneath that of her lover and his wife. The two women begin an odd and provocative friendship after the man that they shared dies during 9/11. Patrick Ryan’s slipstream story “Which Way to the Osterling Cloud?” takes place in 2056, and tells the tale of a man who has waited nearly his entire life for aliens to come and take him away. The story is told from the point of view of the alien probe inside him.

With the poetry, I admire that the editors knew what they were looking for, even if I wasn’t the reader they had in mind. I could see an informed aesthetic behind their choices. Like with a Rothko or Pollock painting, sometimes it’s enough for poems to simply be, and not mean.

What really makes this issue of Tin House a template for what all literary magazines could be are the extras. Rob Spillman, Tin House’s editor, orchestrates an excellent interview with Ann Patchett. I loved Patchett’s honesty, as seen in this excerpt:

I think that supporting myself—because, really, I made my living doing magazine work for so many years—as a freelancer just made me tough, and that’s great. When I teach fiction, or I talk to people who are all sensitive, and they write a paragraph a day, and it has to be perfect, I’m like, “Oh, man. Just shut up and get to work.”

The issue also included an interview with novelist Jean-Phillippe Toussaint, conducted by Michael Silverblatt. Toussaint spoke admiringly about Samuel Beckett’s work. He spoke too about how something like the cell phone can allow his characters to be in two places at once: “…she’s forgotten to turn off the cell phone. So there he is in a bathroom making secret love to a Japanese woman, hearing his ex-girlfriend in Paris walking through the Louvre in the terrible awareness of her father’s death.” Everything about the interview leaves one wanting to read some of Toussaint’s work, and what a gift it is that Tin House’s editors followed the interview with a satisfying excerpt from Toussaint’s latest novel, The Truth About Marie.

Also included is a fascinating excerpt from Maggie Nelson’s The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning. The woman, this writer… I mean, what a stylist. What a thinker: “I don’t know who, exactly, feels as though they’re hearing truth spoken to power by watching a shellacked cable news anchor read aloud from incoming tweets, but no matter—it is characteristic of today’s supposed hunger for truth that it coexists with a general repudiation of, or disinterest in, fact.”

Everything about this issue of Tin House is a pleasure, and there’s so much more to it that I didn’t get the chance to mention. The editors clearly made their selections with the reader in mind, and, so, what a perfect bit of summer reading, indeed. Trust me when I say, without the faintest hint of hyperbole, that this issue of Tin House is fantastic, spectacular, and stunning.

I did, in all honesty, subscribe to Tin House as soon as I finished writing this review. If you love good and varied reading, I would suggest you do the same.

Spread the word!