Though not planned as a themed issue, Editor Michael W. Pollock claims “Dysfunction” took hold in tying this collection together. Admittedly, the theme didn’t stick with me, as I found each work unique in its own right, the strength of this journal being the variety of the prose selections.
“Meanwhile, at the Black Barn,” the lead story by Chad Willenborg locked me in. A stranger moving into a rural subdivision community and the insider/outsider treatment is freshly explored in this piece, with creepy – and completely believable – turns. Told in omniscient, scene-driven chronology, it is followed by Johannah Rodgers’s “Beirut,” a disconnected third-person recollection story, told as though passing by a person’s life and seeing it from the windows of a moving train. Still different, Paula Bomer’s “A Walk to the Cemetery” is a short-time-span narrative that delves deeply into the mind of one character. A mother walks with her son and realizes that, at age six or seven, he wants his separation from her, which she then forces.
FCR is not afraid of a longer story, some in the twenty-pages range, which can be greatly rewarding for the reader, or not, as was the case in Billy O’ Callaghan’s “The Sound of the Sea.” While tightly crafted from beginning to end, I found the Hunchback-of-Notre-Dame-meets-Steinbeck’s-Lennie in the “disabled person as monster” characterization a flat tire on a gravel road after a twenty-mile bike ride.
Further on disappointments: inconsistency and perhaps poor editorial choice of poetry. After such a strong prose start, the first poetry by Bryon D. Howell just about made me put down the publication. While “An Unfair Advantage” shows some burgeoning effort, the other two poems were more like mock-poetry handed around in high school. I just couldn’t take them seriously, or even find them funny in a way other than milk-out-the-nose humor, and I guess I’ve just outgrown that. Luckily, works by Youssef Rakha and James R. Whitley pulled the standard back up. Whitley’s metaphors and description of a loved one’s dying show careful consideration to the higher achievement of poetry, connecting to that which is beyond language: “October is intent on having its way with us: haughty glabrous moon glaring down, / bitter wind bossing us around like twigs, / your cancer still spreading like an oil spill / in the once-pristine waters of your body.” After his trilogy, the follow-up poem, “Regarding Lenore” by John Grey, while beautifully achieved, is lost because it, too, is about illness and dying. Good poem, bad editorial choice. Separated by other work, or even saved for a later issue would have been a stronger decision to showcase the poetry rather than have so much on the same theme/topic together.
With continued editorial vigilance, quality submissions, and a willingness to include such a range of diverse literature, First City Review is off to a strong start with room to move up.