This issue of Alaska Quarterly Review is nice and thick and full of great writing. Of the fiction, my favorite story was “B & B” by Celeste Ng, a coming of age tale featuring a main character who suffers from pica, the urge to eat things the rest of us don’t consider food. I will never look at chalk in the same way again. I also enjoyed Shao Wang’s story, “One Voted No,” a melancholy piece about an aging Chinese widow whose life is disrupted when the town must elect a mayor.
Two of the three nonfiction pieces deal with the death of a relative: “Looking for an Angle” by Deborah A. Lott and “The Tricky Thing About Endings” by Leigh Morgan Owen. Both present an honest, detailed and unsentimental look at death. Describing her uncle’s last moments, Lott writes, “Nathan looked like no one I’d ever seen, his skin yellow and waxen, with one popped out bluish cheek.”
As good as the fiction and nonfiction are in this issue, the poetry definitely dominates. Jane Hirshfield is the guest poetry editor of this 25th anniversary issue, and she has included many well-known poets: Robert Bly, Mark Doty, Maxine Kumin and Sharon Olds, to name just a few. The poetry, like the other work in this magazine, is arranged alphabetically by author’s last name, giving it a no-nonsense anthology kind of feel, an approach that might not work as well if the poetry wasn’t so impressive. Some of my favorites include Jack Gilbert’s “Neglecting the Kids,” a poem that is light and dark at the same time; “The Other Rhinoceros” by Phillis Levin, which manages to convey deep meaning through wordplay; and Peggy Shumaker’s inscrutable “Bugler, Ft. Wainwright, Alaska,” which says something new each time I read it. There is hardly anything not to like in this issue of the Alaska Quarterly Review.