When I tried to think of an adjective to describe this issue of The Gettysburg Review, the closest that came to mind was eclectic. No prevailing theme or esthetic tied together these wonderful essays, stories and poems.
The essays range from reviews to first-person creative nonfiction pieces. Of particular note was Colleen Kindler’s “Luisito Grau de Armas.” So sound and captivating are her storytelling techniques that ten pages into the essay I thought I was reading a short story. The essay describes the author’s stint as a volunteer at a nursing home in Cuba whose most popular resident is a charismatic wheelchair bound little person named Luisito.
Before long Luisito, the pint-sized emperor of the nursing home, develops a crush on the author. At the end of the essay, the author, a nurse and Luisito are gathered on the nursing home’s rooftop. The nurse asks “Coh-lene” if there are any Luisitos in America. Kindler writes, “This is a question I will field almost every day that I live in Bejucal. ‘Nope.’ Thankfully I get the answer right on the first try. ‘Never met one. No Luisitos.’”
Likewise, the fiction is varied and diverse. James Reed’s hilariously deadpan account of office politics in “Enough People Hate You” reminded me a lot of George Saunders. Ted Sanders’ “Flounder” describes a fishing trip à la Hemingway from both the perspective of the fisherman and the fish. The protagonist of Paul Zimmer’s “George Washington” is a hapless little-leaguer who, like his namesake, cannot tell a lie.
But I thought the best in the lot was Caitlin Horrocks’s “In the Gulf of Aden, Past the Cape of Guardafui.” Although outlandish, the premise of the story works: a couple with a disabled son takes a cruise vacation during which the ship is hijacked by pirates. In an interesting twist, instead of revealing the true nature of the disability that afflicts their son, the couple makes up lies about him, saying he’s an accomplished tuba player, a cryptologist working for the NSA, an Olympic athlete, or a doctor who’s found a cure for a rare disease.
Among the poetry, I particularly liked Joyce Sutphen’s “The Poem You Said You Wouldn’t Write.” Encompassing a single sentence written in couplets, the poem plays with the clichés associated with poetry. It also violates the adage that poetry shouldn’t be about poetry.