Susan McCarty’s short fiction “Another Zombie Story,” in this issue of Indiana Review provides a flash of imagination that affirms hope in the midst of disaster. In ten linked thematic sections that are at times funny or ominous (but always insightful and compelling), the narrative warbles on a mysterious landscape, plays upon a portfolio of expectations and emerges resilient as the main character discovers love (and garden vegetables) against a backdrop of loss and instability. It is tightly drawn, lovely against an imagined—but all too real—wasteland. And isn’t darkly dramatic like other literary depictions of a wasteland: it rejects the nihilism that would characterize a wasteland; it teases along those shorelines and splashes right out of the water with a musical laughter you can hear through the pages.
You hear, in the literature of the Harlem Renaissance and the Post-Colonialist canon, creative work as a vehicle for social upheaval as a method for humanitarian repair. While one may speculate about the function of literature, I love it most when it speaks for the silenced. You can hear it second hand in this issue through Doug Paul Case’s review of Christopher Hennessy’s “Love-In-Idleness.” Case captures a metaphor of Hennessy’s as “affirm[ing] the validity of many queer youths’ lives: seventeen years of subterranean dormancy makes the song that much sweeter.” The lines that Case references from Hennessy’s poem are:
The cicada sleeps
underground for 17 years
to avoid the mantis and wasp.
But when it emerges, it sings.
There is no shame in that life.
No shame. You feel it in Natasha Sunderland’s debut short fiction “Eight, Nineteen, Twenty-Seven.” Her story is a love story, yes, but one made complex by the politics and traditions that have not yet changed, even though there are those calling out for that change. Sunderland does not confine the story to one kind of love—or one kind of loss. It is not like the short fiction of Justin Torres or Adam Haslett, which can peddle a sledgehammer. Sunderland succeeds in creating structural parallels that connect characters and ideas and traditions and expectations with the thinnest, strongest threads. The capacity of love for a wedded husband is neither greater nor lesser than a love for a lifetime lover; the vulnerability of heterosexual love is neither greater nor lesser than the vulnerability of homosexual love.
Political threads—such as the quiet revolution of a post-industrial town—emerge in Elise Winn’s “Presidents,” which isn’t about the loss of American industry overtly, but rather the story of a family that has been impacted by catastrophic job loss and the decimating of the manufacturing sector—not badly placed in a journal edited in the Midwest. Winn wields expert use of the second-person (the departing father) to convey the impact of economic devastation on a family, a community, a childhood. This scenario manifests itself in a vital message, without political fanfare or propaganda, and yet you feel it acutely.
Childhood is a large theme in this issue; children are frequently the narrators, or the vantage points of view, and play Tzadik roles even in the stories, poems or essays that are not directly framed by them. I’ve noticed a formula to stories narrated by children that have been published in the last few years; often times the writer will demonstrate or underscore a universal truth through the simple language and developmental delay of a child. The formula allows writers to speak very simply and justifies the poverty of language with the argument that a child wouldn’t move more quickly, elegantly or eloquently than the story that portrays such characteristics, and I find the pervasiveness of this trick to be overwhelmingly depressing. One story that evades this formula is Delphine Coulin’s short story “The Drops Falling from the Sheets,” translated by Paul Curtis Daw. The writing is rich with art, evokes it through to the end, quoted here:
And the shirt catches up with the dancing line of missing persons’ shirts, in the sky over the city’s noisy streets. It reaches the suburbs, then the countryside, and eventually the garments borne by the wind proclaim the existence of the desaparecidos throughout the continent. . . . There will be no forgetting, nor will there be pardon.
The disappearance of the political dissidents in Latin America might always be somewhere in the continental mind, looking as we do for literature that speaks against abuse, systemic or personal. But the sheets and shirts on the clothesline, often unseen, do not figure in the smallest ways against a tapestry of something as macroscopic as a pin on a map of foreign policy.
Sara Gelston invokes the “Other World” in her inventive avant-garde poem. In it, Gelston creates a fugue of simultaneity:
She prepares fika and poaches two eggs,
Stands in one doorway after another. You are both
walking home. You are both passing your streets by.
Gelson’s epitaph is a good grounding (“If we spoke a different language, would we perceive a somewhat different world.”). Philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote, “The world is the totality of facts, not things.” And this spirit is not far from what Gelson magically achieves—facts, simultaneity, the fabulist Meaning, rather than any of the objects filling up our private spaces, our summarizing worlds.