Writing is ordinarily a solitary pursuit, but the result of all that lonely work makes us part of a proud community. The Westchester Review takes the concept of community very seriously, collecting the poetry and prose composed by “established and emerging writers living, working, or studying in New York State’s Westchester County area.” Founder JoAnn Duncan Terdiman and managing editor Naomi L. Lipman tap a deep pool of talent, offering us some very good work that manages to transcend the geographic limits of its submissions policy.
Herb Friedman’s “Stunt Pilot” is a standout short story that takes the reader back to the 1930s, a time when the mere concept of aviation was still exhilarating and new. The first person protagonist has been carrying the weight of the narrative for a decade. He and his friend Kirk were pilots during World War I and forged a tight bond. Kirk’s wife, Florence, makes the narrator promise to keep Kirk out of the cockpit: a promise that lasts until Kirk needs money and a stunt flying gig presents itself. Friedman, a pilot and corporate lawyer, paints a lush picture of a very interesting time and imbues the narrator with a strong and compelling voice. One wonders what he could do with a much larger canvas than a six-page short story.
Kay Cosgrove took the journal’s prize for writers under the age of thirty with her poem “Study in Blue.” The free verse work consists of sixteen lines cast in two columns that are divided by a half-inch block of white. Cosgrove turns the trick of keeping the poem open to reader interpretation without making it opaque. Should the poem be read horizontally or vertically? The choice, of course, is left to the reader.
In “The Letter,” Dylan Gilbert wastes no time in getting to the story’s primary conflict. The story’s first person narrator, Benton, sits in a coffee shop and sips a cup of chamomile tea, thinking about the letter he’s read a hundred times. It begins: “My name is Cheyenne and my mom is Julia Hirshbaum,” and later, “I know you’re probably wondering why I’m writing. Well, I read one of my mom’s old journals last week and found out that you are my dad.”
It should come as no surprise that the news knocks Benton for a loop. Solace and an unanticipated way forward arrive in the form of Natasha, the waitress who ends up bringing Benton more than tea and soup. Natasha jostles Benton from his malaise, bringing him to a slam poetry night, where he watches her perform. As you can imagine, the young woman is the anodyne Benton needs to put his new situation into perspective. Gilbert does indeed offer us the expected conclusion, but wisely stops short of telling the reader too much.
What will happen when fourth graders begin live-tweeting the oppression they experience in elementary school? Ben Zuckert gives us an idea in “Unscripted,” a brief story that is told in periodic status updates from Sam, a young man who feels he is the victim of injustice because he was taught cursive writing: a skill that he will never use again. Zuckert’s story is light and fun, and a fitting way to conclude the volume.
Many of the pieces in this issue of The Westchester Review are colored by the shadow of the Big Apple, the spires of which are visible from many hills in Westchester County. As a former resident of the area, I enjoyed the way the editors and writers manage to capture the feel of such an interesting place. Those who live, as it says on the cover of the journal, “from the Hudson to the Sound” are influenced by the shining city to the south, but maintain an identity all their own.