Saranac Review is an annual featuring work by American and Canadian writers published at the State University of New York in Plattsburgh. The terrific cover art is by Ric Haynes, oil paintings from a series called the “The Floral Wars” composed of combinations of “flower set ups” and toy figurines. His short essay, “The Floral Wars: Beauty and Brutality,” (with studies/drawings of the individual figures) is a highlight of the issue. The artist’s approachable style, both in the essay and the visual works, is representative of the journal as a whole, which features work that tends toward the “accessible” and casual in tone and diction.
Approaches to the approachable in Saranac Review are both varied and consistently appealing. Jim Krosschell’s essay, “With Thoreau in Maine,” for example, which begins:
Here are the steps to heaven, maybe hell.
1. Sit in JFK rocker with fir trees and Penobscot Bay in view.
2. Log on to Google Book Search.
3. Download copy of The Maine Woods.
4. Open Delorme Atlas to page 23.
5. Read “Ktaadn” and trace Thoreau’s route from Bangor to Katahdin.
6. Explore your head alongside his.
7. Worry about the shortfall.
For the remainder of the essay, Krosschell extrapolates on each of these seven steps, and there isn’t a misstep among them.
Reg Lee captures my attention immediately with his approachable approach to titles and also to first lines, which are, respectively, “This is Not a Story About Zombies,” and “When Ricky Ceden returned to his wife, cooked her breakfast the way she liked it – eggs a little runny, toast slightly burnt – she fainted.” I won’t tell you the next line, because there’s a shock contained therein. So, you’ll have to approach the journal yourself if you want to find out if she faints from his lousy cooking or for another reason.
Tom Wayman’s approach to the approachable is to implicate his reader in the story from the get-go in “Satyr Mounting a Nymph,” which begins: “We’ve looked at some landscapes, and with the next slide I want to begin to show you how figures appear in such landscapes.” He sustains this approach admirably throughout in a story that is clever and highly original.
Poems, too, are approachable, making the foreign familiar (in “The Ring,” by Karen Shenfeld); balancing arch language with plain speak (in “Homecoming,” by Elizabeth Sanger); and using humor to engage (in James Engelhardt’s “Impotence of the Gods,” which begins: “The gods can’t repair you if you fail / because they’ve moved to Florida to rest / their rebuilt joints”).
Finally, Nathan Holic offers a short story made approachable through a likeable and inviting voice coupled with comics and black and white drawings to illustrate his family tale. “Between Panels,” is both well written and well-drawn, a wonderful example of hybrid creative work that is meant to be understood, rather than to dazzle or baffle.
This was my first encounter with Saranac Review. I will certainly approach it again – with enthusiasm.