This is the most beautiful literary journal I've read recently, possibly ever. From the text layout to the colored paper stocks behind the illustrations, each detail contributes to a visually striking book.
And yet, for an issue that focuses on Sacrifice, such a sophisticated visual sense possibly works as an anesthetic to the text. In these stories, some difficult, off-putting, sometimes brutal, the landscapes are sere, flooded, pastel-banal, ominous. In those cases, I found myself working to stick to the words' grit, instead of relaxing into the pleasures of their surroundings.
For example, Mark Bell's "Three Cataclysm Babies" features three severely dystopic stories with families past the breaking point -- the double meaning of "kids" in the first story is especially disturbing -- but the accompanying images by Joseph Wood are smooth, harmonic, calm; the illustrations ride above the story, instead of enhancing it. Successive text/image pairings work better. Jonathan Messinger/Ghazal Hashemi's teaming for "Ashore, an Island" reinforces the bleak events of the story, through sepia visions of an island distant and drained of vitality.
Ryan Call and Jenny Kendler's work on "Baron Von Richtofen Flies Again" delights, with parents facing serial pet deaths with whimsy and distinction. "A Very Compassionate Baby" by Anne Valente (images by Chrissy Lau) hits that spot of the weird that seems to be my weakness. I'll give Annalemma this much: It's so filled with stories with varied subjects and tones that I think any discerning reader could pick it up and find something of interest.
As for my initial response, I might be so used to journals emphasizing text over graphic design that I'm probably biased. I'm not asking for journals to publish challenging work in a poverty aesthetic, or for the visual component to take second place to the textual. It's that in the Bell/Wood work I took the difference between image and word too seriously to classify it as irony. I couldn't process the dissonance between beautiful images and the ugly scenes as either irony or as subtly connected. Well, that's just me, and your mileage will vary. Give it a test drive.