If you want a devastating collection of modern literature, reach for Pembroke Magazine. The journal was launched from North Carolina in the late 1960s and has matured to a strong print presence among the small presses. From the variety of vantage points and voices, you might not even realize that it showcases the best of compilation out of the Edenic East Coast—one hundred miles from Charlotte, one hundred miles from the sea. But it manages to capture this in time and place with a rich lyricism and insightful prose.
Poetry opens the volume with a range of subject matter and presentation. This leads into prose with a review of Glenna Luschei’s Leaving It All Behind. The review, by Perie Longo, reaches toward an element to carry you forward in the journal with its prescient beginning: “To enter Glenna Luschei’s latest book you might want to take plenty of water, Vitamin C, and a flashlight.” If more of us took to the dark with a flashlight and a book of poems—especially, perhaps, Luschei’s—surely our ailments would fold into the imaginations of our forefathers.
Gilbert Allen’s short fiction “Peers” opens the fiction section nicely with a little bit of law and a little bit of literature, not to be limited to the law and literature movement per se, closer somehow to the classical—Chaucer over Grisham in character development and plot vicissitudes. As you tidy up the loose ends in a lovely glow of happ-ish endings, that is, the marriage of happenstance and happiness, the mood of the story rocks gently into Neil Connelly’s “The Lost Art of Believable Make Believe,” a meditation on parenthood and responsibility that borrows the examination of righteousness we inherit from Allen’s piece. It reads like a lullaby stitched together with licorice—we learn about fatherhood in the first person and his dreams and stresses. But as we move forward within the story, the candied auspices of the introduction flash and sizzle. We see a murder and a divorce roiling across the caramel skies. Accountability? Do we even evaluate causation, can we believe what we have seen? Send in the clowns; rearrange the chairs. Righteousness blurs like a festival of parenting and light.
Wiley Cash’s insights about his new book A Land More Kind than Home, warm the center of the journal and animate the work around it with its daring premise and the writer’s humility and hope. I was then whisked away by the fresh verve of Katie Burgess’s short essay about love and faith, “Rahab’s Thread.” Stories making light of conservative, restrictive faith practices, or by those who use faith to effect restriction are not unusual. But Burgess is heartbreakingly funny. I tried valiantly to be offended, but it was impossible. Here is an example of Burgess making a well-traveled premise completely new:
“Whore!” the man yelled.
I wasn’t sure if he meant me, but I turned and looked back. He was pointing in my direction. It hit me how in another time and place a man like him might have stoned me or burned me at the stake. Now all he could do was wave a sign around and call me names. My heart swelled with love for the twenty-first century.
Burgess seems to have riffed on a shtick honed by David Sedaris (in his early years), but she does it with her own confidence and mastery of the form. It is easy to derive inspiration from the modern greats, but to make it your own, as those in this journal do consistently—we might call it the biosimilar feature of literature—classes you in your own circus, however measured or far away.