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North Dakota Quarterly - Fall 2005

  • Issue Number: Volume 72 Number 4
  • Published Date: Fall 2005

North Dakota Quarterly is a sprawling academic journal—it has expanded by 50 pages since I reviewed it last year—but it knows how to put its enormity to good use. Thoughtful essays, reviews, and criticism are givens, but this issue gives opportunity to illuminate the fiction and poetry that tends to get overshadowed. The highlight is three short stories, three, by Robert Day. While two of them are fairly cosmopolitan, the other one, “The One-man Woodcutter Meets His Widowmaker,” decidedly belongs to the rugged West. Day’s territory in Kansas serves as battleground for the perpetual skirmishes between the sexes. The woodcutter’s widow has promises she doesn’t know whether to keep, and her nagging, folksy narrative is a struggle to confront her secrets while respecting her husband’s wishes. “He was always making me promise something,” she says. “Don’t give more than a dollar at church. Promise to fix me bierocks for supper on Saturday. Don’t tell those women in Cottonwood anything about us.” I leave it to the women to judge Day’s use of the female perspective, but his mythical world is all his own. Among the essays in NDQ, Robert Bagg’s critical assessment of undervalued poet Richard Wilbur is the most academic; Kevin Oderman’s “Selling,” a travel essay, is the smartest. The timeless “human face as mask” conceit gets, if you will, a facelift at a cremation ceremony in Bali, where Oderman studies the selling power of the facial expression, whether selling merchandise or an emotion, the very act is given attention in overflowing prose. He writes: “It helps to have looked at the dead to know how living shows. It is in motion, yes, but not only. Like sun-struck water rippling over stones, it’s not wholly transparent.” All of this out of little Grand Forks? Believe. [] —Christopher Mote

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Review Posted on February 28, 2006

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