The stories in Under the Gum Tree feel very authentic; it is easy to identify with the characters and narrators. In Chelsea Schott’s “The Frederick Boy,” I was transported back to being a teenage girl, that feeling that your crush is the whole world, the terror of a disapproving parent, going over the day’s events again and again in your mind. It begins:
I try not to think of that day last summer on the back of John’s motorcycle—knowing if I think about it too much, if I let myself wander back into that day, I will dissolve into the desire I can’t resist—of retracing every step I took, walking over the same paths, holding the moment up in the sunlight, watching its reflection cast prisms across my view. But he comes back, that presence of memory begging my attention, demanding my submission . . .
In Robert Freedman’s “Rescue,” we feel the tug and pull of the father’s desire to both protect his daughter and let her learn on her own. And although I am not a parent myself, it was written in a way where I could still feel the conflict going on within the narrator’s mind and heart. The following passage is essential to the overall story:
When Sarah was a baby, I used to carry her everywhere I went in a harness carrier on my back. I loved the feel of her wiggling little body against mine, even when she got heavy. . . . Sometimes I’d buy a Hershey bar and as we returned to the house reach back over my shoulder to give her one of the little squares of chocolate, knowing that she would make a mess and end up with chocolate smears all over herself and the backpack, but I couldn’t resist the squeals of her delight, couldn’t resist making her happy. How easy it was. How perfect. We could always clean up the mess later.
Due to the design in which the first paragraph of each piece gets its own page and is in larger print, openings are even more crucial than normal. My favorite beginning starts Rachel Lowrance’s “Capturing the Beauty”:
The recital hall echoes when I walk across the booming wood floor. I always come to this room with a hushed anticipation. Perhaps it’s the magnificent wooden resonance of the room that magnifies any sound I make. Or the cold that pricks my skin and leaves me nervous with chills.
Looking forward to her recital the next day, Lowrance ponders the feeling of beauty in music, and that it is an experience: “Beauty is not just listening to the music, but shedding human skin and crawling inside it.”
The issue also holds other pieces that are worth looking at, including a photo essay about the spaces beside “freeway structures that run through our cities and suburbs,” Justin Icken’s “Sevim’s Serenity,” Lucy Black’s “Mrs. Harris,” and art scattered throughout by Geoffrey Todd Smith who uses geometrical shapes and patterns “to create complex, vacillating spaces and surfaces.”