Lake Effect is an annual publication out of Penn State featuring fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction. Arranged in sections by genre, the journal makes for easy negotiating. The book feels large, solid and is printed in easily legible font.
The literary nonfiction is particularly strong in this issue, especially "Point of Entry" by J. Malcolm Garcia. Garcia was a former social worker who switched to a career as a foreign correspondent and found himself in Afghanistan in 2001 right after 9/11. Throughout the story, Garcia fears he will be too green to pick out the subtleties of a war torn Afghanistan, but discovers "This is a ghetto man. I may not know where Afghanistan is on the map but I know ghetto."
The fiction selections offer a wider variety of tone and subject matter. The first piece in the journal, "Hapax Legomenon" by Michael Czyzniejewski, is an interesting choice to open with. Marvie, the main character, works at a pirate-themed mini golf course owned by his deranged mother and looks forward to the eventual development of the fun center into a respectable country club with a nine-hole golf course. Several times in the story Marvie is beaten and tortured by the employees who take care of the go-carts. They don’t want the course changed. In one scene, they tie him up in front of the pitching machine, put in twenty dollars’ worth of quarters, and leave him there overnight. The story is darkly funny with an almost cartoonish quality to it.
"A Hole in the Script," by Mark Brazaitis, is a quirky story detailing the attempts of various directors and actors to interpret an ambiguous pause written into the script of a play. The interpretations vary wildly, causing one director to tell his actors "I have betrayed you all merely by bringing you here," and, "I was foolish to think I could protect you."
My favorite piece in this publication is "Twenty-First Century Itch" by Josh Green. The story starts with twangy sort of dialect I feared might weigh down the narrative flow, but I was pleasantly surprised at Green's ability to dial the technique back when appropriate, allowing a charming and sad story to unfold. The narrator in the story has just lost his wife to a strange skin disease and throws a bottle at a man in a restaurant whose yuppie appearance annoys him. As the man confronts him, we get flashbacks of the narrator's experiences with his wife. Any story about this kind of topic runs the risk of being overly sentimental, but Green handles it deftly, balancing lines like "the outlet mall, as I came to find out, isn't so bad when you're shopping for somebody" with "for a minute I was inclined to saunter back in and hug his wife. Or maybe lick her face."
I found everything in Lake Effect is straightforward and to the point, which is refreshing in a medium that sometimes veers to the overly edgy in an attempt to stand out.