The wintry cover of the 2011 issue of Prism Review projects two RVs squatting on a frozen landscape under an ominous clouded sky. I liked it immediately, and it urged me to open and begin reading. The editors at the University of La Verne (California) dispensed with any editorial pleasantries and let their contributors' work spill forth from the get-go.
The journal opens with Becky Margolis' story “Weatherization,” winner of the 2011 Prism Review Fiction Prize. It's not a long story, but it's kind of gritty and makes you itch, maybe from all the flies: "She somehow managed to get the thing coiled around part of her head and, in her struggle to untangle herself, deposited a showering of fly corpses onto her sweater."
Come to think of it, many of this issue's fiction offerings made me feel uncomfortable in one way or another. I happen to like fiction that disturbs, though, so I was pleased. One particularly haunting story is Bipin Aurora's "The Girls in the Warehouse." Through dream-like recollections, the unnamed narrator tells of visiting a warehouse, what some said was actually "a place of ill-repute." Using repetition paired with unusual phrasing and cadence, Aurora draws the reader in to stand by the narrator's side as he navigates this strange place. Over the course of many visits, the narrator develops a tentative relationship with a Korean girl named June, one we know is not likely to last:
One day the rain came through the roof, it fell on the floor. It fell on the bed. It fell on the books—even the books. How afraid she grew. She was a brave girl, she was a strong girl. And yet how afraid she was—how suddenly afraid.
"The Night Game" by Meagan Cass is another tale riddled with awkward and bitter moments. In it, the first-person narrator, an erstwhile figure skater, learns to deal with family troubles and teenage stagnation by joining a group of tough girls who play ice hockey late at night on an undisclosed pond. The group is led by a whiskey-swilling girl named Connor, who, in her gruff manner, takes the narrator under her wing. At first, the narrator is too scared to skate, only watching from the sideline:
Then they are out there, skating fast circles to warm up. It's like no skating I've ever seen before. They move pucks back and forth fast, shoulders hunched, edges grinding, flecks of figure skating grace showing here and there in an elegant crossover, in a too-frilly turn, in a t-stop.
Later she comes to embrace the game fully, as it helps her work through everything else that is out of her control. It's a well-paced story, expertly weaving the narrator's home life with her experiences on the ice.
There is also a great deal of good poetry in this issue. I was taken by Brent Armendinger's three poems, all of them quite distinct and separate from each other. The first, "For Mount Baldy," is a prose poem of tangled phrases: "Giving the impression that a leaf. Giving the impression that a hello. A leaf is sleeping in its hello. In its crumpled crumpled telegram." The second, "What is a Prayer," relies on opposing side margin justifications to separate the poem into two parts. The following is a clip from the top section:
the blinking sky has nothing
to regret, nothing to begin when the street
our shiny stack of errors
Armendinger's final poem, "Catch and Release," is composed of two-line stanzas and, of the three poems, perhaps comes closest to offering a narrative:
We walked the river looking for that afternoon, for your father
like an echo—a son unraveled from the anchor he meant to be
rudder. Your mother never told you. How the quiet happened,
and I thought to bury myself in that snow I want to be for you,
but I know the whiteness is interrupted, the quiet
becoming tooth decay, the roof of our mouths.
Maria Ursula Anderson delivers another grouping of three poems that caught my eye. Each poem is named for a bird, nested underneath the trio's overarching title of "bird ritual in an age of deprivation." In "horned owl," we learn that "an owl owns the deepest burdens." And in "northern fisher's owl," Anderson's narrator wonders:
who will tail the wind now,
who will pump hot bands of chalk
onto petal eaves, the long hallways
choking the loamy loomed earth
Finally, in "eastern wood pewee," we read that "these are indeed pewee-days." I couldn't agree more. And what better way to while them away than by settling in with a copy of Prism Review?