Only one issue into its run, The Normal School has an enviable hit/miss ratio to go along with the ambition behind the magazine’s creation. The fiction, poetry and nonfiction between the covers inspire the reader to question “their own motives, sense of place, or quantum mechanics and the boundaries of art.” In more plebian terms: you’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll remember the pieces long after you’re done.
Ron Rash’s short story, “My Wife Left Me Last Night and the Mail Is Running Late,” immerses you in the world of Caleb Huckabee. Caleb suffered an accident while working construction, sacrificing “his life so Seneca, South Carolina could have a Hooters to call its own.” Poor Caleb has alienated his wife, Nadine, by focusing his attention on his nascent poetry career. Unfortunately, the mailman is not as dedicated to his craft as Caleb is.
Dinty W. Moore and Steve Almond contribute imaginative, funny pieces. Almond imagines what Jenna Bush’s diary might look like, while Moore offers “44 Reasons Why You Absolutely, Positively Should Never Write that Book.” Reason number seven: “Forty-two percent of college grads never actually read another book beyond college.” Reason number eight: “Apparently, reading is hard.”
In “Punishment,” Tom Bissell introduces the reader to Mark and Steve. As childhood friends, they bullied the weak and insecure. After drifting apart, red-state Steve has come to visit Mark in New York City. Mark confronts residual guilt from his childhood actions while Steve marvels at being in a city filled with homosexuals and art.
Sometimes, our best reading experiences are inspired by a challenging story. In “A Very Small Woman,” Eliza must care for a childhood friend who is now six inches tall. Linda Burnett teaches the reader the rules of the world and does a good job with the minutiae of the situation.