This issue of Night Train is 175 pages of prose – presumably fiction – with an interview of Chimamanda Ngozi Lockett and an essay on the history of Normal, Illinois. I can’t decipher a theme nor can I give any sweeping summary about this issue. Instead, here’s a list of quotes that represent the variety of stories and voices. “Where a woman might look even beatific with all mouths open, a man – even a handsome man, with a broad jaw, solid chest and a stomach you could use as a spice rack – even that man, masturbating, looks like an imbecile.” That’s from Grant Bailie’s “You Are One Click Away from Pictures of Naked Girls,” whose narrator is more concerned with his clumsiness regarding sex rather than internet porn.
“If we’re going to believe anything in a world where people vanish, we need to leave room for mystery. Be willing to live with what we don’t know.” From Ron MacLean’s excellent road trip/missing person story “Last Seen, Hank’s Grille.” Tom, an aloof young scientist working on isolating a telomerase gene to retard the aging process, disappears from a truck stop diner, where his lover and his patron figure out how to proceed.
From Jim Nichols’s “The Plinktonians” where an unemployed father reconnects with his teenage son: “Brian imagined ducking into the market and grabbing a beer. But even he couldn’t be that much of a loser.”
“Home Front,” Bruce Holland Rogers’s piece of Firebox fiction (stories under 1,500 words), is a clever take on war profiteering. There are ex-cons crashing a family Thanksgiving, the freak show that is long distance bus rides, dance lessons for the kids and lesbian encounters with the other mothers. Daphne Buter’s “Now That I Am Sober” is one of the best, original, and moving takes on the clichéd one-night-stand subgenre, where the misogynist male narrator can’t stop the train wreck that wakes up next to him.
As a whole Night Train is quality writing – even the few stories that lacked a strong ending. It’s original, varied, surprising and thoroughly enjoyable.