The Mid-American Review’s most recent volume seems to catch the reader in that moment between sleeping and waking, grieving and surviving, forgetting and knowing. A dream-like quality pervades the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry chosen by its editors, who claim to be “on the lookout for work that has the power to move and astonish us while displaying the highest level of craft.” Faculty and Masters students from Bowling Green State University’s MFA program in Ohio weave together each piece to create a state of reverie from the very first pages.
Mark Mayer, a featured fiction writer, captures the elusive character of the volume with the first lines of his short story, “The Evasive Magnolio.” Mayer writes, “the thought came to Stony [a circus veterinarian] that maybe the elephant wasn’t truly and fully dead. A little dead, but not the whole way through.” The reader is taken into the world of Goodland, a town encumbered by dust, drought, and famine but that still attempts to survive. The town, fueled by its cannibalistic children and their fascination with ghosts, draws the reader into a world that is hollow and frightening. Though nightmarish, we are drawn to keep reading till the very last rise of dust, “the dust that rose was far too think and far too fast encroaching” for the any being, even an elephant, to hide from.
The alarming quality of Mayer’s piece sets the tone for the rest of the volume. Expressed perfectly by the volume’s featured poet, Tarfia Faizullah, in “Interviewer’s Note,” when she asks, “It is possible to live without / memory Nietzsche said but / is it possible to live with it?” This question, in reference to her poetry that highlights Faizullah’s Fulbright research in Bangladesh, seems to have been created for other pieces in the volume. She quotes Paul Célan in the introduction to her collection, “Everything is near and unforgotten,” as if to shake the reader into reading between the lines. She wants the reader to discover the pain of her poetry and, by extension, the distress in the essays and poetry the rest of the volume generously offers.
M. Ann Hull’s nonfiction piece, “Sound is a wave of pressure,” speaks to this question most acutely. What at first appears to be a study on sound gradually moves into a powerful lyric work on living with memories of domestic abuse. “Normal conversation,” she writes, “measures up to 65 dB. I’m an adult who tells her husband: A violent home has its volume turned up . . . A prayer, if whispered, measures 30 dB.” In reading, we hear in her words that same desire to shake the reader from their dream or understanding of reality into a deeper understanding of self and truth.
A curious and attractive compilation that results in a fine display of the written word, this volume of the Mid-American Review interweaves interesting pieces that will cause you to critically reflect on reality. It will make you face some of the seedier and twisted aspects of the human mind and human capability in a way you never thought you’d like, but do. It’s as if the words from the 2010-2011 Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award First Prize winner, Lydia Fitzpatrick’s, piece “Flood Lines” were written to express exactly how you will feel after finishing the volume: “We screamed at each other, felt our mouths fill, felt suddenly the way you can melt into the world.” You will not be burnt out by the struggles the pieces express, but ignited, ready to “melt into the world” of Mid-American Review.