This issue of the Santa Monica Review starts out with a bang—literally.
In the first story of the issue, Michelle Chihara’s “Female Lead or A Pitch for a Character-Drive One-Hour Procedural Television Show,” the narrator goes on a stream-of-consciousness brainstorming session for television drama that may or may not include a surgeon, a cop, a King of Heroin who has strewn bodies up and down the Texas border (see? A bang—literally!), and/or a ride into the Mojave Desert.
This followed by J. J. Strong’s “The Earth Moved” in which a former minor league baseball player traverses an earthquake stricken, post-apocalyptic-esque Los Angeles to get home to his dear Olivia, and I was sure I was in for an explosive trip through Southern California.
The Santa Monica Review, based at Santa Monica College, focuses on showcasing the fiction and creative nonfiction of Southern Californian writers, and, I must admit, I could feel California sensibility. I would even go so far as to compare it to those “Visit California” commercials in which surfers, movie stars, and wine enthusiasts all tout the diversity of people and lifestyles one should come visit.
The selection of work in the issue comes from a variety of genres and styles, but they all have one thing in common: these writers are solid, engaging storytellers. From Chihara’s and Strong’s high-energy narrators to slower, more reflective tales, the storytelling in this issue will keep you reading.
One of my favorite stories in the issue was T. Duncan Anderson’s “Shelter” about an employee at a homeless shelter in Iowa who is exploring the women in his life through the lens of his work with people on the fringes of society. Anderson’s narrator is young and maybe a little naïve, but the earnestness with which he is looking for a woman who can love a family is both endearing and heartbreaking, like in this passage where he talks with his anorexic, poet girlfriend about a his pregnant ex-lover, Laney:
“She’s aborting it tomorrow.”
“Good,” Laney whispered.
“Do you ever want children? Would you ever want my children?”
“No. I have more than enough to do raising myself,” she said. “Besides, you’re not ready to be a father.”
“You’d never know. I could be,” I said.
Another highlight was Tara Ison’s “Fish,” a complex, carefully paced story in which a young woman makes arrangements for her uncle’s death as he subsists on life support. As she waits for the uncle to die, the narrator makes continual visits to a fish pond at the local botanical garden:
The last of the crowd is finally gone, and she eagerly approaches the bridge. The little green river has rippled out to glass. The food sticks to her palm, and she imagines a scattering of flakes from her gentle, Lady Bountiful hand, the grateful fish swimming near with beauty and tranquility, taking nourishment from her, then swimming off and away with content grace. But the moment her foot hits the red wood there’s a wet flapping, a swell.
Not only will the fish that soon appears give you nightmares, but so will the surprising, heartbreaking ending.
What’s unique about this collection is that how easy it is to get excited about the writers it contains. Nearly the entire issue was brimming with talent. Personally, I’ll be looking for more from these writers elsewhere—and coming to future issues of the Santa Monica Review to discover more writers I need to be watching for.