Two of the seven works of fiction in this issue are first-publications for authors, suggesting the editors mean it when they state their intent to publish “today’s prominent writers and artists alongside upcoming talents.”
One upcoming talent is Jane Calandro. In “This is All I Have To Give You,” Calandro’s first-person narrator discovers she doesn’t “have the capacity to lose it. I will never be inefficient. The city could burn down and I would still wake up at eight-thirty, wash my hair with Head & Shoulders, and mechanically spoon Joe’s Os into my mouth.” Amidst this mechanical existence and a struggle for self-definition within subtle familial trappings, the narrator grows progressively sure, if somewhat fearful, of herself:
She is screaming something to the extent of how I will never succeed because I only ever do what I want to do and I carry around that blanket all the time. . . . Now I do what everybody wants, whenever they want, and feel hysterical when I can’t.
Jose Luis Peixoto’s “The Story I Just Finished Writing” is this issue’s concise opener. In this fantastical piece, a man describes an argument with his mother over the portrayal of the mother-character in his most recent piece of fiction; the mother fears readers will equate the character with her. Paragraph by paragraph, the mother in the offending story (which, it becomes clear, is the story we are reading) shifts wildly in mannerism and appearance – and likewise does the actual mother – as the writer attempts to appease her. Finally, he tells us, “My mother shouted, ‘Do you want other people to think that I am a mother who starts shouting just because of a story in which people think that I am shouting just because they think that I am shouting?’” Perhaps because Peixoto’s piece follows its own rules so well, it transcends mere cleverness.
The journal contains sixteen poems. I was particularly struck by Joanna Klink’s “Begins”:
hours that ended
in emptiness began
in closeness take
who you are leave me
who you were.
While the fiction and poetry in this issue tend slightly toward the obscure, the two nonfiction pieces are rather straightforward. Serbian Fedja Dimovic recalls the 1999 NATO bombings, noting that a decade later, ruined architecture remains, while the world seems to have forgotten the event. “Light the skeletons up; light them up well,” he writes of the half-destroyed buildings, “so they can be seen by anyone who knows what terrible injustice is and doesn’t want to see it happen again.”
Kenji Nakayama’s compelling cover-art is a fitting introduction to perhaps the most visually appealing literary journal I’ve read. More of Nakayama’s art is contained within, alongside work by three other artists, printed in over twenty full-color pages.
Proceeds from this issue go to a child and family services provider in New York City called Safe Space. Each issue of H.O.W directly benefits orphanages worldwide.