Despite the journal’s self definition – nonfiction narrative – one of this issue’s highlights is a piece that defies categorization, “On Dusk” by Teddy Macker, where the narrative is, I suppose we could say, implied and what we’re given to read is a series of observations: “Dusk’s antonym is cataclysm,” “This is not a dream, says dusk,” “There are mountains, says Dogen, hidden in mountains,” “The greatest gift of dusk is unassailable mildness.” There are three pages of these poetic remarks, as short as a sentence and as long as a short paragraph. Dusk is just the sort of emotional and physical experience that begs for this type of treatment, and I appreciate the shape of Macker’s thinking and the shape of the piece. But, it does call into question the meaning of “nonfiction narrative,” which serves, otherwise, I think, as a fine alternative to “creative nonfiction.”
I love a good essay, and quibbles over definitions aside, there are 13 strong ones here, including Macker’s. The range of styles and tones is appealing from family stories to rumination about landscape. Barbara Hurd’s personal essay about her mother, told against a narrative about light and place, and Lorence Gutterman’s, story (he’s an oncologist), about learning to read/hear what his patients are trying to convey to him are particularly successful. A fine piece by Mathew Davis about his years in the peace corps in Mongolia helps give the volume a sense of expansiveness, and Janet Yoder’s excellent essay, “Sensing Radiation,” weaves a personal story with larger environmental concerns in a broken narrative that is competent, touching and, in places, lyrical. River Teeth is not only a good read, but a good sample of how fine nonfiction writing can work.