Harvard Review is not a first pick among reviewers, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps the name scares some away – too high falutin’? However, in reading this issue, I felt not the least bit shut out of the content, and if anything, found much to access and some enjoyable challenges.
The strength of variety rests with the poetry. Denise Duhamel’s “Baby Onion” was a hit for me with its strong imagery, characters and story quality, whereas in Major Jackson’s works, the individual nature of some lines struck me in their moments, like, “Considering my country’s longing for homogenized milk / & bags of tube socks from Walmart, / Which felt cancerous.” Ilya Kaminsky’s multi-layer story told in the poem “Deaf Republic” left me with one of those ethereally haunting feelings (still lingering). Its exploration of deafness is literal and figurative, metaphorical and concrete, and told all through relationships between those who speak and hear, and those who do not (cannot or choose not). It is indeed a “fairytale” of poetically epic proportions.
Of the prose, which normally gains my greater attraction, there was less to interest me. The short story “Rodolfo and Nelida” by Jason Lewis led the issue, and was indeed a hard act to follow. Lewis’s surrealistic style intertwined with solid imagery, sturdy characters, and situational realism was delightful. Perhaps influenced by the Mexican origin of his characters, his work reminded me of Luis Urrea’s early stories. The essay that followed, “Star-Crossed Something-or-Others” by Eric Lemay, is an exploration of teaching/analyzing Romeo and Juliet with students who couldn’t care less, until provided with the ways and means to connect. Lemay’s commentary on the how he relates the story to a younger generation of readers makes me want to teach it! I would even have students read his essay (“Romeus runs a beauty contest.” will certainly hit the mark). Whether intentional or not, the essay seemed a centerpiece for other works in this collection – the idea of individuals whose relationships and experiences with emotions guide them to understand themselves, one another, and the custom of expression of their time.
Other prose of note includes Michael Knight’s essay “Swimming the Backstroke or Writing What We Don’t Know,” a must-read for all writers, and stories by Anna Solomon and Paul Harding. The strength in the fiction was the clear sense of story, the connection of past with present, and in some cases, deep reflection. Other prose works lacked, for my taste, a sense of poignancy, and utilized endings which seemed trite. Good writing, but so what? was my response. Not much to stick with me afterward. The essays and poetry would bring me back to this journal, though, and as is so often the case, each issue is a new adventure. I expect this is true of the Harvard Review, and will not be the least bit hesitant to find out in the future.