West Branch is back with another issue and deserves the attention generally reserved for a select few. Editor G.C. Waldrep and his staff consistently serve up some great writing, and their latest installment is no different.
This edition wastes no time engaging readers as Benjamin Parzybok’s story “News of the Week” employs the second-person, direct you. The piece is framed with an encounter at a roadside taxidermy museum that thrusts us into that peculiar moment with the narrator. Parzybok lets us get close with the protagonist and better relate to him. He transports us to the headspace of our main character and we get to experience the struggles that occur in this tumultuous time period for her. She deals with a lot: a depressed sister who just had a miscarriage, her own diagnosis, and bizarre elements such as a biker boyfriend with a pet pig and a stuffed gorilla. The character is sympathetic to her sister, but has her own health problems that she doesn’t even disclose because she is worried it will disrupt those around her. Through it all, we meet a determined individual whose situation plays on family dynamics we all can resonate with.
Roxane Gay delivers a gem in her story “Ugly Love.” The first line sucks readers in and then immediately builds from that engaging opening: "When I tear myself open I'm horrified by what's beneath my skin [ . . . ]" sets the tone for what is to follow and suits the narrator's self-depreciating mindset. Gay's decision to structure the story in little moments or vignettes works, as it is easy to get behind the narrator and join her as we see multiple events that shape our understanding of her and the world in which she inhabits. In less than four pages, it is amazing how Gay can command an audience in such a condensed space.
Of poetry, Corey van Landingham grabbed my attention. Each of her four poems are filled with visceral details that make the moments and scenes come to life. “Once there was never a room / in which someone had not died.” "Leaving Fort Barry" transports readers to colonial San Francisco where the city is becoming something different from what its original inhabitants set out for. "Love Letter to, Drone Operator" is fun and plays off the technology that is increasingly becoming a part of modern culture. Lines six - eight demonstrate van Landingham’s ability to craft a strong image while also experimenting with form: "Is the freezer you walk to, / three a.m., / a point on the screen.” The spacing she uses throughout lets us process and highlight the significance of each line as we move forward. She creates a rich experience by getting us to participate more while reading her writing.
West Branch is housed at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania and is published three times a year, with subscriptions rates at ten dollars a year. I highly recommend this journal to anyone who appreciates good writing. You will get to read established names such as Gay, and emerging writers with voices that will become mainstays. There is also an online component: West Branch Wired which is a direct extension of the journal that you can check out and stay in tune with their latest happenings.