It would take a particular effort of resistance to ignore this debut of The Saranac Review simply because Frank Owen’s vibrant painting In Season August adorns the cover. And while the black-and-white interior renditions of his paintings do not do justice to his work, the written works (fiction, non-fiction, verse, and “inter-genre”) match the cover’s brilliance. I enjoyed reading excerpts of the forthcoming novels Deadline Fiddle (HarperCollins, 2007) by Jay Parini and Push Comes to Shove by Wesley Brown. Parini’s novel, with its sympathetic characters and well-drawn settings (couldn’t tell much about plot in so few chapters), will likely take a prominent place among novels set during the American Civil War.
As for short fiction, Don Ball’s “Squatting in the Ruins” accomplished no mean feat: by tale’s end, two unsympathetic characters showed glimmers of humanity, thus eliciting my sympathy. “Inter-genre” is an interesting label for David Budbill’s “The Purse Lady” and Amy Gerstler’s “Rooms of Joy.” The later, a rumination on a certain suite of rooms (real or imaginary?) used by Edgar Allan Poe, Virginia Woolf, Franz Kafka, Sigmund Freud, Mary Shelley, and Charles Baudelaire is quite evocative and thought provoking.
I connected with a number of poems in this issue as well: Naomi Ayala’s terse “Trasnocharse” (“This word, / the opposite of sleep, / meaning to pierce the night away”) and Jean McMillan’s “Azalea” (“Whatever it was, it stayed hidden, / the reason for her alcohol-lust, insatiable, / secretive as a witch bottle buried in the garden, / clear glass sealed with wax and stuffed with needles, pins, / rusty metal-shards, wiry strands of hair.”). Although Ross Leckie’s “The Lost Birds of Paradise,” based on the fact that 20 species of bird of paradise became extinct in the 19th century due to hunting for the millinery industry, defies excerpting, it succeeds in creating an aura of mystery that will draw readers back repeatedly. Even so, “Regarding the Notion of Goodbye” by Elizabeth Powell is this volume’s tour de force:
Make your partings complete.
Do not flip them over and over
like a stone, until your hands are dry and cut,
and your mind is cliff-worn, as if hit by wave after wave.
The goodbye is a prayer to release what has come before,
release it as the flower sends her pollen into the wind.
According to Editor Linda Young, The Saranac Review “aims to dissolve boundaries and to create connection between American and Canadian writers, acting as a textual clearing, a space for cross-pollination. . . . [W]e set out to capture the magnificence of these crossroads, where cultures, aesthetics, and theories intersect, merge, diverge, and inform one another.” This being the case, I hope that future issues will include more works by Canadian authors. [http://research.plattsburgh.edu/saranacreview]