A rich, resonant read, WHR’s academic foundations are never far from the surface. I’m torn between wanting them to be flaunted shamelessly, and keeping it in check with a list of self-conscious characters (character formation found, it seems, in the world of realism). In both cases, the world is defined by a set of objects; for example, DaVinci = academic; Guns n’ Roses = quotidian.
The journal’s forays into the landscape of realism are often the most fulfilling. Dawn Houghton’s portrayal of a misguided woman’s first sexual experience (during her honeymoon) sounds like a more mature, balanced picture of the psychologically constricted tenderness Kevin Moffett usually fails to accomplish. Almost as good is Craig Bernier’s “An Affliction of Starlings,” the story of a failing father-daughter relationship whose normal speech is betrayed, somewhat lifelessly, by descriptions of “mammoth corned beef the size of a hardback Ulysses.” The author’s head is clearly lost in a book, but his heart constantly shows up – or at least seems to be searching for – the right places.
On the other end of things, I am in continual amazement on the success of Steve Almond. Though he makes off with only a flash-fiction-sized slice of WHR, the marks of his territory are everywhere: traces of irony, the play on brand-name products, irresolute conclusions. On the other end of the spectrum is Aaron Fogel, who is allowed to escape with 30 pages – more than 20 percent of the entire journal – which he fills with a piece called “fantasias in g,” the subject material of which can only be described as cannon-fodder for anyone who believes that the business of contemporary short story writing has been to expel meaning to the lunatic fringes of importance in the Quixote-like quest for the irregular and “fresh” premise.
Thankfully, WHR finds a happy medium between heart and head more often than not; I hope you’ll be as happy as I am to let this issue occupy a void on your bookshelf.