The magazine’s 2010 fiction contest winners open the issue and they are, indeed, award-worthy. Tori Malcangio’s “A History of Heartbeats” is a smartly structured story that plays out the metaphors of heart rate, flight, and the body’s flight from its own heart (anorexia) in a heartbreaking story of substance (body) and soul (flight). Short-short fiction winner Darren Morris follows—in a stroke of editorial genius—with “The Weight of the World,” with its appealing and insightful narrator (“When you’re a kid the summer lasts forever, and that summer lasted two lifetimes.”). Short-shorts by honorable mention recipients Edith Pearlman, Jendi Reiter, and Thomas Yori are also terrific examples of the short-short genre. Their work is well matched by fiction from another 14 writers; nonfiction from 6 contributors; and 50 pages of poetry, including poems by the ubiquitous Bob Hicok, and 6 marvelous poems by Traci Brimhall.
What characterizes most of the work in the issue is similar to what makes the prize-winning fiction appealing: earnest writing evoked through appealing, credible voices; writing that strives for artistry without over reaching; authentic perspectives and language; cleverness and polish that is sincere and rarely showy. I appreciate the journal’s interest in, and publication of, short-shorts, a form I find highly satisfying when done well, as it is here by Mabel Yu and Timothy Samuel Scott, among others. And I appreciate work that is both personal, yet unsentimental, such as an essay by Lisa K. Harris, “Dementia” (“My mother talks to plants. I’ve heard her coo to dinner plate-sized peony blossoms, thanking them, as they put on a the show just for her.”); and I am grateful to encounter fiction that is quirky in a natural way, without working too hard for its odd-ness, as in a story by Christine Grimes, “The Ending Matters”: “When I found Sal, after the movie was over and the lights had come up, I thought he was sleeping. I didn’t realize he was dead.”
Poetry tends to be somewhat edgier than prose in this issue, including work by Nick Courtright, dawn lonsinger, Nicole Higgins, and Christina Olson, though there is a generous range of tones, approaches, and styles and no work that appears to be edgy for the sake of edginess. Traci Brimhall’s work is as impressive as ever. Here are the gorgeous opening lines of “The Women Are Ordered to Clear The Bodies of Suitors Slain By Ulysses”:
This is how I betrayed my country—
with each almond I fed them, with each grape’s
red blister. After the war began, there were years
of hunger and fear and our bodies unheld.
I cannot close this little review without mentioning the splendid cover by Ian Stewart. I cannot tell if this is a drawing or a woodcut—a simple, lovely, stark “north passages” scene much like the work in this issue, sure of itself without pretension, serious, deeply moving, and unique.