I am not a native Californian. I was raised in the great state of Missouri, thank you very much, and it is a state that I sorely miss sometimes. This is why it was an immense pleasure to find in my mailbox The Lindenwood Review, a literary journal from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. It was like receiving a love letter from a friend I haven’t heard from in years. Cultural biases aside, the inaugural issue of this university press features a strong line-up of fiction, poetry, and essays from various talents across the country and abroad.
Jenna Devine’s short story “Naked” is (if you’ll forgive the pun) a revealing look into a relationship between a model and the artist who paints her. The story begins with Dahlia, a middle-aged woman, stepping inside an art museum with her husband and feeling dizzy from “the rush of a twenty-five-year-old memory.” The gallery is featuring never-before-seen works of a recently deceased artist who painted Dahlia when she was a young woman in New York City. The narrative switches back and forth between Dahlia’s visit to the museum and her memories of posing nude for the artist she fell in love with. Dahlia worries about what her husband will think when he sees these nude portraits of her, and she struggles with her own conflicted emotions with the now dead artist. Devine has great command of the language in this piece. Her sensory detail places the reader inside the hot city of Dahlia’s memory: “It was New York City in August; she could taste the melting asphalt with every intake of breath.” Dahlia’s desire for the painter is as palpable as the paints used to draw her:
While he painted she thought about making love to him. One of his cracked-paint hands reaching out for her, not to arrange her limbs or brush hair out of her eyes, but to touch her, to pull her over to the mattress with its wrinkled navy blue sheets.
Devine examines the artist at work and delivers a wonderfully sad love story through the transformative power of art.
The poetry in this journal was extremely pleasing to read as well. The speaker in William Stratton’s “Face Down Days” knows how miserable life can be when a loved one dies: “I have seen the weather grieve, seen / it tear a woman apart, // the ropes that bind her body / to the world snapping taut ends.” He knows how depressing funerals can be, and he knows how those who are still living must “face down” those dead days one by one. Stratton then delivers the final two couplets like a shot to the kidney:
I hope you die first.
If one of us is to sit on a faded porch of the future,
trying to remember the curve of a jaw, or the feel
of something soft on the lips, I want it to be me.
Stratton’s words hold great meaning here. It is far better to die than to live alone with the memories of someone you loved. Jamie Thomas’s “Song of Saturday Morning” would appeal to those who grew up eating their cereal “Indian-style in front of the snowy TV screen.” The speaker in Thomas’s work is an adult reflecting on “Batman & Robin days,” “Days of no remote control,” and days of “three channels, no cable.” The poem ends on a more serious note of loneliness and isolation. The speaker comments on how he never had to worry about the responsibilities of adulthood in those days and how he never “thought to wonder why / the superheroes led such solitary, phone-booth lives.” It’s a bummer to find out that your heroes are just as flawed and alienated as you are.
My favorite essay in this issue is Lisa Vaas’s “The Saddest Tootsie Pop Ever.” Her essay starts with her visit to a therapist, but quickly escalates into a frenzied jaunt through her “glucose-starved brain.” Vaas’s essay is a fascinating look into the mind of a diabetic, and the quickness of the language reflects how challenging it can be to get the brain to focus when it constantly needs food to recharge: “The brain doesn’t store glucose, it burns it, burns it on the high holy altar of cognition, burns it as it flips Cartesian cartwheels and writes or reads sentences like these.” It left me hungry for more of her work (and a Tootsie Pop).
Despite suffering a power failure that forced them to work in the dark for their first staff meeting, the folks at The Lindenwood Review have produced a strong first issue, and I applaud them for their work. You don’t have to be from Missouri to appreciate the great writing found in this journal. And if you’re not from the Show Me state, then don’t feel so bad; nobody’s perfect.