The Georgia Review consistently delivers the best of contemporary fiction and poetry. Given its hefty reputation, it is no surprise that this issue is packed with high-quality writing from established authors. But above all else, this issue is an investment in Mary Hood, whose feature consumes two thirds of the journal. You may have never heard of her. I hadn’t. Hood is a southern writer whose history with The Georgia Review dates back to 1983, and whose fiction has been published in Harper’s Magazine, The Kenyon Review, The Gettysburg Review, and more.
After reading the story included in the feature, “Some Stranger’s Bed,” I’m off to the bookstore to buy one of her two short story collections. Often compared to Flannery O’Connor, Hood’s very typically “southern” piece reminded me of Woolf in her distorting time and expressions of the subconscious. Hood’s story starts with an intense passage about the first few moments of waking. As the narrator ascends from the abyss of sleep, reclaiming both a sense of her identity and the room around her, we are carried on an unlikely journey of shifting memories.
While this story gives us a taste of Hood’s style, William Walsh’s interview shows her rare wisdom, humility, and a fascinating understanding of how she fits in among her southern predecessors and peers. Undoubtedly the best interviewer for Hood, Walsh’s reverence for her writing seeps through at unexpected points in the conversation. Having interviewed many Southern writers before, Walsh’s only regret is not having discovered Hood sooner. Her discussion of her cultural inheritance (which she describes as bipolar), her painting, and her passion for reading that drove her to steal books, reveal a woman who has spent a lot of time reflecting on where she came from, what makes her happy, and how to make things happen for herself. With Walsh’s short, focused questions as a gentle guide, Hood speaks at length about writing. Surprisingly, she speaks about writing as a precision. She aims at the right word, the well-defined setting, and the polished draft until she hits it, head on.
I imagine anyone who knew of Hood before this issue will devour her correspondence with Stanley W. Lindberg. Not as familiar with Hood, I caught myself gliding over sections of it, as anyone might if they aren’t invested in a writer’s career—regardless of her merit.
While the editor’s note asserts that everything else in the journal is a “complement” to Hood, her centrality in the issue certainly does not overpower the other talented writers included. This issue’s poetry is standout. The shroud in Andrea Hollander’s “Portrait with Purple Shroud” highlights a purple spot that plays both the gossamer pall and the bruise, a wound wrapped and draped. Her second poem “Blue” shows sharp divisions—of a laundry line cutting across the blue sky, of a blue china bowl broken. Told from the voice of a recently separated woman, the poem reaches a fragile equilibrium of both broken halves. She tactfully ends the poem with second person to bring in a final, unexpected missing half. And while Friman’s poems are stunning and best read out loud, seasoned poet Goldbarth’s are rich and textured by historical and cultural references.
Reading The Georgia Review makes for a sensational afternoon. Not only is each piece beautiful in its own right, but their diversity, presentation, and assembly have been paid equal attention. Whether readers dwell on Hood, sample pieces randomly, read only for the poems, or attack the whole journal chronologically, reading this issue is going to be a bloating indulgence.