Long before highbrow carpetbaggers followed the Silicon Valley free-market bubble west to begin San Francisco’s literary “reconstruction,” there was Howard Junker, the cantankerous eccentric who started Zyzzyva from scratch and clawed his way to a position where he could tell Thomas Pynchon’s agent to call Thomas Pynchon bad names. An original do-it-yourselfer, Junker reads every submission that comes through the transom; provides the email addresses of his contributors; even maintains one of the most informative literary blogs on the net. Junker’s reaction to foreign incursion, after several infamous softball skirmishes, has been exceptionally Southern: namely, he has continued publishing Zyzzyva almost exactly as before.
“Before,” as now, means quality writing. In this issue, John Struloeff’s extended nature metaphors give poignancy to verse detailing loss, while Bob Judd’s long memoir of seesawing family fortunes, in which each plot point is connected by an automobile, is as fascinating as it is wide-ranging – and particularly intriguing as it focuses less on Judd himself than the peripheral figures that defined his childhood. Charles McLeod’s “Exit Wounds” carries the sort of disjointed anticlimax that emblematizes much of San Francisco’s migrant culture.
The issue, of course, isn’t an unqualified success: SF Chronicle artist Paul Madonna’s “Out of the Grapevine” attempts to fuse banal descriptions of self-conscious characters with images where the likeness of those depicted is not seen. Whereas his All Over Coffee serial achieves this because it generally links its self-consciousness to immediately familiar, generally picturesque San Francisco settings, (making for a pleasant Sunday-morning diversion while flipping through the paper), his attempt to tell a story with this material is entirely unsuccessful.
Though it doesn’t look as “hip” as many other productions, there’s a far more subtle, and real, feeling of interaction with Zyzzyva.