Trés chic. I liked Grain Magazine the moment I saw this issue's elegant black/white/blood-red cover. Luckily, the content didn’t force me to revise my opinion. This issue is split in two parts: a regular part with fiction and poetry, and a section celebrating the winners of the “Short Grain” micro-fiction and nonfiction contest.
I really liked the poetry here – unusual for me, since I naturally gravitate towards fiction. But Leon Rooke's “Narrow Escape,” the first poem in this issue, drew me in with its elegant premise and the increasing tension that isn't resolved until the very last line. There are several prose poems in here, which can be read as poems as well as mini-stories and give the issue an airy, impressionist feel.
The fiction avoids well-worn topics and kept me interested throughout. The content and style of the stories are so different from each other that I was surprised to find them in the same magazine. I particularly enjoyed Sally Cooper's “Rubber People,” a dark father/daughter story in which father and daughter never meet but seem more deeply connected than they understand themselves. Roger Nash's “The Camera and the Cobra” is a beautifully written story about a doctor experiencing a sand storm in Egypt. The description of the storm is stunning. I normally don't care too much for contemplative tales set in exotic locales to compensate for the absence of plot, but this one won me over. I wish it had been longer. Richard Cumyn's “The Young in Their Country” is a weirdly funny teacher's tale that's impossible to summarize. Read it!
The “Short Grain” section is absolutely gorgeous. The top three – or, in one case, top four – winners in each category (postcard story, prose poem, dramatic monologue, and the “long grain of truth,” i.e. nonfiction) are lovingly presented along with detailed judges' decisions. I particularly liked that there was room for funny stories among the winners (e.g. Terry Favro's “Famous People” or Art Collins' “Hypothermia”), which again were very different from each other. My favorite was Janice Salkeld's disturbing “New Millennium Child.” Great issue, great mag.