The 70th anniversary issue of The Antioch Review is mammoth. This 385-page issue serves up the best of the past ten years of The Antioch Review. Some of the luminaries chosen for this issue are Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Bell, Clifford Geertz, Aimee Bender, Gordon Lish, Benjamin Percy, Eavan Boland, and Federico García Lorca. This best-of celebration is a wonderful place to turn for any who are looking for interesting pieces by established writers.
Opening with Steven Jay Gould’s essay entitled “Ground Zero,” this issue presents an overall tone of the utmost seriousness. Rather than a sense of play, The Antioch Review examines the solemnity of writing. A story that seemingly runs contradictory to that theme is Leon Rooke’s “How to Write a Successful Short Story,” but even this piece—with its humor—is a meditation on writing itself.
This desire to investigate the intellect can be found throughout the issue. Bruce Fleming’s essay “The Deep Springs College Cowboy Lunch” explores life at Deep Springs College, a unique all-male environment where students live and work on a ranch for two years, and then, more often than not, go off to the college of their choice. “Twitchy,” Sallie Tisdale’s essay about her teeth, examines a different type of intellect—it considers her feelings for nitrous oxide at the dentist’s office. A number of the essays in this collection take a similar form; they start with a small personal detail and then broaden to some historical or other phenomenon. For the most part, they are evenly and excellently paced.
Even the fiction in this issue follows this attitude of intellectual solemnity. Edith Perlman’s “Aunt Telephone” features a young, single psychiatrist named Milo and his place among a group of families that make up a tight community of mental health professionals in Boston. As the girl who narrates the story grows older, she sees Milo’s role morph within this family dynamic, and her attitude towards him changes from adulation, to anger, to tolerance.
Perlman’s story is a narrative feat that explores a close community and how that community takes care of its members. Her writing shows compassion and tenderness, and this attitude—a respect for humanity coupled with a desire to examine and even explain human relationships—is one of the defining attitudes of this issue of The Antioch Review.
Richard Kenney’s “New Year, with Nipperkin” stands out among the poetry in this issue. It starts, “And so the world begins again / In mild disarray,” which seems an apt summary for our times. The dark humor of this poem makes it one of the few pieces in this issue that could be classified as funny.
The 70th anniversary of a literary journal is certainly a cause for celebration, and a journal as dedicated to its mission as The Antioch Review deserves attention.