Colorado Review has found the sweet spot, with material accessible enough to be enjoyed and edgy enough to shake you up. Terry Shuck’s wrap-around cover photograph sets the tone, with idyllic clouds and leafy trees above a dry swimming pool, patched and smeared with shades of ocher, aqua, and green. The empty pool has an eerie look. Are those clouds and trees really all that idyllic? The image makes you look twice.
You’ll want to look twice as well at the main character in Lauren Watel’s short story, “Happiness Sucks.” Damien Furnish-Moore is a precocious, well behaved young boy who decides to carry out an ethnography project on his own family. Is it simply the onset of puberty that causes him to steal his father’s expensive pen, walk into a bad part of town with his baby sister and a girlfriend, and do a Bartleby with his favorite teacher? Or does the strange distancing that has possessed him have something to do with his role as ethnographic “participant-observer”? This wise, funny story may make you reflect on how much you have become a participant-observer of your own life, and what that may be doing to you.
Similar themes of 21st century estrangement permeate the other three stories in this issue: Chaitali Sen’s “The Immigrant,” Erika Seay’s “The Great Barrier Reef,” and Robert Yune’s “Cottontails.” I particularly enjoyed “Cottontails,” a dystopic story in which Tara, a young adwoman, tries to hijack the consciousness of a college athlete to help her sell more effective product placements. Something in the athlete resists, though, and disaster ensues.
The nonfiction section is equally strong, with three essays reflecting on loss. Kelley Clink, in “Surfacing,” recounts her struggle after the suicide of her brother. In “The Running of the Brides,” Jessamyn Hope weaves reflections on her mother’s death into a barbed, funny description of the annual bridal dress sale at Filene’s Basement. (If the fictional Damien Furnish-Moore demonstrated the dangers of participant-observer status in adolescence, Hope shows us how the pros do it.)
In the third essay, “Hugo,” Karen Maner reflects on working in the family pet store and on the death of her blue beta fish, who had lived his short life stricken with spinal curvature. Selected by Rigoberto Gonzalez for the 2013 AWP Intro Journals Project award, “Hugo” is a pitch-perfect meditation on our conflicted relations with animals.
There’s a generous selection of poetry, too, and much of it also finds the sweet spot. Representative of the interest and quality of the selections is this poem by Heather Christle, which keeps us riding on its freshness and surprise:
Just because we’ve broken my head
doesn’t mean we must glue it together
There’s other work to be done
Poet Courtney Kampa also has good work in this issue, as do Ashley Seitz Kramer, Edward Mayes, Jena Osman, Erin Rodoni, Kate Rosenberg, Michael Martin Shea, Rodrigo Toscano, Sarah Vap, Brent Armendinger, Monica Berlin and Beth Marzoni, Darin Ciccotelli, Jesse DeLong, Nathan Hoks, and Shane McCrae.
The publication’s design, including typography, is a model of what literary journals should strive for. It has balance, contrast, proportion and unity. Above all, it is readable. And there’s plenty worth reading.