Notre Dame Review is a sophisticated, erudite lit mag, not always an easy read, certainly not a quick one. “Our goal,” says the website, “is to present a panoramic view of contemporary art and literature—no one style is advocated over another. We are especially interested in work that takes on big issues by making the invisible seen.” This is an apt goal given the theme of the issue—The Gone Show—and how its contents reveal subject matter that seems to have disappeared, making it visible again.
In this issue, a few of the offerings to lend further support to NDR’s goal. In its five stories, 59 poems (or 68, depending on how you count Jere Odell’s “Six Poems” and Nasos Vayenas’s “Three Poems”), four works of nonfiction (one academic/literary; one lyric; one biographical; and one personal), and many reviews, short and long, Issue 32 brings to light the multiplicities inherent in complex issues. And in every case, the second stated intention of the publication is met: “Excellence is our sole criteria.” These selections are not easy or quick, but they require good readers, and they reward attentive reading.
Big issues come in all genres. In fiction, Kelcey Parker addresses capitalism and its relation to mental health in her surprising and (sort of) hilarious “Estate Sale at the Interior Castle.” “The Goddess Complex,” by Christine Sneed, one of my favorite pieces, revolves around the tragic/fateful mother-push from the nest toward individuation, especially in regard to the college experience. These stories aren’t merely entertaining, aren’t merely a good read—they’re also profound. What we are is what we buy, so it behooves us (and our spouses) to be mindful, says Parker; and Sneed reminds us that becoming adult is a tricky, two-way business—if our parents never grew up, we might not either, but we certainly wouldn’t be alone, lonely as we might be.
David Hoppe’s personal essay “Tschaikovsky in the Livingroom” tells a poignant set of stories from his life revolving around “the eroticism of aestheticized violence”—no small problem in our society, though one we turn away from if we can. And the excerpt from Peter Michelson’s nonfiction work in progress, An Autobiography of Postmodernism, which he has titled “Drummers for the Dream,” treats American exceptionalism, especially in the literature of Ayn Rand and Jerzy Kosinski. This academic piece is no less sizeable in its significance for our time than Hoppe’s personal work, proving that “big issues” deserve all kinds of treatment. In corroboration, Michael Perkins’ memoir of Edward Dahlberg paints a diarist’s portrait of a difficult genius—yet a third method for studying an aspect of human nature; it benefits us not to forget.
Perhaps no poem treats a “little” topic, since the fact of its form gives it heft and weight beyond mere exposition. But the subjects of the poems in this issue have particular gravity: the right use of prescription drugs (“Into the Apothecary,” by Heather Treseler and “Xanax/Theseus and the Minotaur,” by John Hennessy, complemented by Seth Taylor’s story “Ritalin”); the artist’s relation to his art (Cynthia Sowers’s “Winter Poet” and “Still Life Among the Shades”); and the inevitability of human failure and striving (“Devil’s Darning Needle” by Stephen A. Allen and Michael Homolka’s “A Priori”, two of this issue’s best poems). I must quote from Homolka:
Sometimes it returns to me—that place where it is not anomalous for solitude to flake off in cinders . . . I remember now—cruising the moonlight, night after night. Bliss and despair, obvious synonyms. I remember the day their face, too, split. . . . I was there—searching out the live dirt, the slippery river banks, the weightless song.
Which of us does not perceive a place in our subconscious past when opposites wore the same cloak, and we had to learn to rend it? Holding that memory is a big issue for me; applause, that Notre Dame Review includes it within its covers.
Finally, reviews of Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Geoffrey Hill, Göran Sonnevi, Valerio Magrelli, various poets in translation, and many American authors posit the significance and necessity of partaking of world culture. (W. Wilde-Menozzi’s story “Brunelleschi’s Dome,” and myriad other titles that include terms from art and literature, confirm this position.) Alongside the social, psychological, and political “big issues” this journal takes on, the place of art in human striving may be the largest of all. This excellent issue of NDR shrinks from none of them.