When I first received my copy of South Dakota Review, I took one look at the cover—a photograph by editor in chief Lee Ann Roripaugh of roller derby queens “Olive Mayhem,” “Lady Boop,” and “Sandra D’vious”—and I knew I was in for a treat.
While the journal’s website declares the mission is to have only “a slight western regional emphasis,” its landscapes are distinctly American. Sure, there are jaunts to the Serengeti, Canada, and outer space, but still I couldn’t keep myself from picturing South Dakota as I could only imagine existed, replete with Patsy Cline, quarreling convenience store robbers, and flying saucers.
The fiction in the issue is among the most imaginative you’ll find, exemplified, probably, by “Boy with One Wing”—a surrealist tale by Katie Farris in which a young man with one wing hopes The Inventor of Invented Things will be able to furnish him with a second wing so that he might fly. As the Inventor struggles with his inability to invent the un-invented, Farris’s language is bold: “He had tried to invent the feather, but the complications of the hooking mechanism that holds the barbs together evades him. He wants to dig out the feather and find a warp to its weft. To invent a Boy so beautiful . . .”
The poetry in the issue is also notable for its surprises and originality. Much of the work resonates with a rural, western sensibility, and all of it is fresh and honest.
From Stephen Coughlin’s “What the Doctor Did Not Know,” where a mother succumbs to cancer, to Jasmine V. Bailey’s “Coalescence” about rain, the everyday becomes vibrant and urgent in this issue. “The droplets,” Bailey writes, “are not candy tossed from a dragon / in a new year’s parade. / Still I crave the storm / even as it consumes the porch.”
My personal favorite, though, was Paige Riehl’s “Mother Tells the Kids about All Good Things.” It’s the meta-narrative of rural life if ever there was one:
We were always waiting for something: recess, our turn
On the spinning playground wheel, the bus driver to see
The kid shooting spitballs, the car to birth her kittens
In the hay bales, the stray dog to stop pacing
at the screen door, the walleye to bite, Grandpa to turn
the boat toward shore so we could pee . . .
Overall, I left this issue of the South Dakota Review feeling not only like a reader, but a participant. The carefully controlled mix of bold imagery, unexpected plot twists, and off-center Americana makes it not just a treat to read, but an experience I’d recommend to anyone looking for a complex mix of craft, wit, and charm.