This issue of the Santa Monica Review starts off with a bang: a reprint of the speech Ursula LeGuin gave upon receiving the Maxine Cushing Gray Award. Her words are brief and humble, and she insists on accepting the award “as a proxy, a stand-in, for Literature.” The rest of the speech is an engaging description of the power of literature and its role in our society, and as I left this opening piece to make my way through the rest of the magazine, I did so with a renewed sense of awe for the written word.
The rest of this issue is nicely organized. Though the ten stories, one essay and two novel excerpts are very different from each other, they share a theme: most of the characters are struggling to figure out the rules in an unfamiliar or challenging situation. In my favorite story, “Aspirants,” by Diane Lefer, a teenage girl volunteers for a Democratic politician in order to further her own political career. As she learns how to maneuver in the world of politics, she begins to suspect that her boyfriend’s interest in Neo-nazism will prove to be a liability. In “Fly or Die,” an excerpt from a novel by Dylan Landis, Leah’s new girlfriend, Rae, decides the best way to acquaint Leah with her lifestyle is to throw her in headfirst, and the shock of this new experience forces Leah to confront aspects of herself that she has forgotten. John Mandel’s strange, Dostoyevskian story, “Theater of Servitude,” presents a man so overcome by the challenge of human interaction that he avoids it altogether, and his every action becomes an attempt to perfect his self-sufficiency.
I was worried, as I read these pieces, that the experience would be anti-climatic. What if the literature on these pages didn’t live up to the promise of LeGuin’s speech? I’m happy to report that I wasn’t disappointed. The Spring 2007 issue of the Santa Monica Review exhibits what LeGuin calls “the invaluable unruliness of literature, the essential liberty of the imagination.”