Issue 40 is a special theme issue on animals, the centerpiece of which are an excerpted essay and an interview with the talented, perplexing, and always-provocative Lauren Slater, who has a book forthcoming on animals, and who was first published many years ago by this journal. Essayist par excellence Phillip Lopate contributes “Show and Tell” about the human animal, “the ethics of writing about other people.” Well-known writer Susan Cheever describes her encounters with much maligned house mice in “Of Mice and Women,” and Jennifer Lunden, Kateri Kosek, Randy Fertel, Jeff Oaks, and Chester F. Phillips contribute strong essays on butterflies, starlings, grunions, zoos, dogs, and lions.
The interview with Slater is what any avid reader of her work might expect, but it is worthwhile nonetheless. Has she lied in the essays in which she has claimed both to lie and not to? What is the relationship between story telling (made up and not made up) and telling stories (not made up and made up)? How does she manage to get so much done while coping with so many potentially debilitating circumstances (mental illness—her own and of her clients). What does she think of what the critics have said of her work (praising and maligning writing about her own experience of illness, and/or abuse, and/or science as personal sense of fact and fiction)?
This issue’s essays are fine examples of the type of work the journal is known for and has popularized, work that combines personal observation, perspective, and experience with larger considerations and explorations of issues, circumstances, and realities. There is a pleasing sort of “biodiversity” here, voices and subjects (mirco-to-macro as far as the animal kingdom is concerned) that span regions and tones, body types and diction, literary structures and environmental exigencies. My only concern: despite Lee Gutkind’s insistence that readers have responded enthusiastically to the journal’s new format (an oversized tabloid), I find the journal hard to hold, unwieldy between my palms for any length of time, and with work this solid, one wishes to read intensely, closely, and comfortably as time—and the animal kingdom—evolves.