Storm Cellar is slender literary magazine—this issue is less than 30 pages—whose website advertises “a special emphasis on the Midwest.” The cover is catchy, a colorful curiosity of overlapping images. Flowers and faces mix among abstractions, and it all looks a bit like wallpaper from the neon ‘80s. Despite the inclusion of only three pieces of fiction, one of which is no longer than a page, and poems by five authors, this issue of Storm Cellar holds up as an interesting, varied read.
Brendan McDonnell’s “The Prophet” is the stand out story, a piece about an undersized ninth grade boy who doesn’t fit in with the rest of this class. His way out is to discover the psychic powers of prediction on TV, and then attempt to practice with the help of a library book. He practices with dice after his bewildered father warns him that maybe he’s only improving with cards because he’s subconsciously learned how to count the cards and so can manufacture a better guess about what suits are left. The story takes a dry, understated tone toward its stumbling hero that allows solid emotions to build throughout, despite a somewhat outlandish premise.
Christopher Dungey’s “Double Fault,” leans toward Storm Cellar’s aforementioned emphasis on the Midwest. Taking place in Detroit, it occurs on the 1973 day Billie Jean King played Bobbie Riggs. The main character, Hector, drives all the way to work in a factory, only to skip work, spending the shift in the bar across the street from the Fischer-Body Pontiac where he’s supposed to be employed. “Double Fault” is full of precise details and skillfully balances the tennis match against the turmoil of Hector’s aversion to work, and his attempts to rationalize away his guilt for not returning home with the money he should have earned.
Cathy Bryant’s poem “Pretty” runs in its entirety: “Pretty / ugly really, / the beauty police.” Bryant’s short, surprising poem is one of the more affecting poems in this issue. David Lewitzky’s “Waltz Notes” contorts the history of the waltz into a poem, concluding, “And waltz, like revolution, and like me, has seen its better days.” The other poems in this issue are laid out on top of designs that appear similar to constellations drawn on graph paper, adding an eerie background to the writing.
Overall, this issue of Storm Cellar, while not long, manages to pack in some strong writing. Even the journal’s website refers to this issue as “slim,” leaving me to wonder if this summer issue, while substantial, might be overshadowed by other, longer, issues of the same magazine.