Maureen Aitken’s linked short stories, The Patron Saint of Lost Girls, is the winner of the 2018 Nilsen Prize, awarded to American writers who have not yet published a novel. The fourteen stories follow Mary, a sometimes artist, struggling through the economic recession in Detroit in the 1970s and 1980s. Told in the first-person point of view, Aitken’s stories are intimately close to Mary’s life and relationships all the while reflecting more broadly on the Midwest. Aitken’s stories are small and intimate but backed by the weight of broader themes: urban decay and what it means to survive as a woman.Read more...
Ashley Morrow Hermsmeier dedicates Something Like the End—winner of the Fall 2017 Black River Chapbook Competition—to “the strange and lonely,” appropriate when the characters of her six-story chapbook are living lives that are just that: a bit strange and a bit lonely.
A woman prepares for an oncoming plague-like wave of bees, and, alone, faces that there are other things to be cautious of in the end of days; a city experiences an unending earthquake; a woman drawn to a mysterious stray cat can’t help thinking about her ex; a woman buries and reburies zombified past versions of herself that keep showing up at her door, versions that died so she could keep living; a futuristic assisted suicide is advertised, its five simple steps outlined for interested parties; and a beauty and beast couple can’t stop dancing as the world ends around them.
While short, each piece manages to push the boundaries of what’s expected. Love stories are surrounded by ruin, break-up stories are haunted by feral animals and zombies, and in each piece, we see the complex ways in which we interact with other humans, or how we interact with the earth that is rapidly changing around us.
Morrow Hermsmeier’s work in this chapbook is imaginative and arresting as it offers solidarity to the strange, lonely reader.
Review by Katy Haas
In the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of Glimmer Train, find “Lady-Ghost Roles” by Laura Roque. The short story explores the oncoming end of a crumbling relationship while casting the familiar break-up story in a new light: the narrator and her boyfriend, Javi, are both dead and are now stuck haunting their old home together.
Tensions still palpable between them, the two watch as loved ones come and go, a realtor enters the picture, and a moving crew starts carrying away their belongings in the days after their deaths. Together, they reflect on moments of their relationship and what brought them to where they currently stand.
Early on, the narrator thinks about Javi: “[ . . . ] I need the universe to transport him somewhere I’m not, maybe hell, or the gym. In life, he’d spent more time touching dumbbells than me anyway.” As time passes, her views soften, though they never settle on a resolution.
Roque gives her narrator a tough exterior, her attitude remaining wry, never too sappy or sentimental. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t read the last two pages with a lump growing in my throat, Roque’s world and character building too strong to resist.
With just enough gentleness and intimacy, Roque’s “Lady-Ghost Roles” is an inventive, enjoyable read.
Review by Katy Haas.
Sitting on the shelf of my university library, the Summer 2018 issue of The Southern Review intrigued me with its curious cover art by Gina Phillips, a New Orleans–based artist. Upon close inspection of the issue, I found quite a generous collection of portraits created by using mixed media and titled Friends and Neighbors. Gina Phillips shares her process of creating these portraits:
I begin by photographing the subject multiple times. Then I sketch from the photos, sometimes combining elements of several photos into one sketch. After the sketch is complete, I trace the drawing onto a transparency and enlarge the figure using an overhead projector; then I redraw it on a piece of plain muslin. At this point, I use acrylic washes to complete an underpainting. After the underpainting is dry, I load the piece onto a long-arm quilting machine and begin the process of appliqueing various combinations of fabric, thread, yarn, and hair. After rendering the figure with fabric and thread, I cut it out of its background and pin to the wall.
The results of this unique process are strikingly vibrant. As the artist notes, these portraits reflect the essence of the people and animals depicted in them.Read more...
“Mixed Drinks” in Zone 3 Spring 2019 is one of many collaborative works by Brenda Miller and Julie Marie Wade, erasing their cross country divide to create a memoir which blends (no pun intended) a list of drinks with associated memories from childhood (Shirley Temple) through adolescence (Bloody Mary), college years (Old Fashioned) to adulthood (Cosmopolitan). Recipes included.
Told in the second person, each vignette contains vivid pop culture details of the time, relatable to many, as well as a conflicting set of feelings the speaker must overcome – between what is expected by others, what is expected of ourselves, and what we are able to finally experience and deliver. “You know that the beer and the hamburger will provide you at least five minutes of purpose in this bar where you don’t belong, and that you’ll walk home afterward in the dwindling light of autumn, along the river, to your sparsely furnished studio apartment, where you’ll feel both lonely and relieved.”
The end of the piece didn't feel finished, but rather the start of something larger, yet unattached. This might seem a fault if it didn’t at the same time feel so polished. An interview with the two writers cleared this up. Wade comments on their collaborative style, “We don’t really know what’s going to happen or emerge, in terms of the content or the final form, until we reach an ending – and even these endings feel more like stopping points or plateaus in our momentum rather than definitive conclusions.”
For more on collaborative writing, including another by Miller and Wade, Jet Fuel Review #17 (Spring 2019) features a Collaborative Works Special Section: “These selections embody the magic that arises out of collaboration and the bringing together of separate voices and identities to craft a singular, resonant body of work.”
Review by Denise Hill
As John Zheng shares in his introduction to the Fall 2018 “Rivers and Waters” issue of Valley Voices: A Literary Review: “Rivers are lifelines of all things in this world, and river plains are cradles of ancient civilizations. [ . . . ] We need the river to live; we need the river to enrich our spiritual life and inspire our creative writing as well.” This beautiful introduction about the importance of rivers and waters in all our lives—in fact, in the very evolution of humankind itself—sets the mood to all of the beautiful poems and images about the rivers and waters that follow.Read more...
If your interest is in the outdoors as well as the arts, something fresh and new, The Boardman Review is an excellent choice. Subtitled “the creative culture & outdoor lifestyle journal of northern Michigan,” this print and digital journal includes literature, music, lifestyle profiles, and documentaries that focus on the work and lives of creative people who express their love of the outdoors without trying to promote their talent. This last issue of 2018 provides a promise of even more fascinating work during the coming year.Read more...