Before my obsession with literary magazines began, Brett Lott – The Southern Review’s editor – spoke to my writing group. At the end of his talk, he put a plug in for the literary journal. If I would have known then what I do now, I would have ordered The Southern Review immediately. But I did not. Now I know it’s one of the country’s oldest reviews, consistently publishing some of the best writing. The current issue is no exception.
Joel Peckham Jr.’s poem “Movers and Shakers” is from the perspective of a man hired to help a family move: “He has learned to take / their anger the way a fisherman takes weather, a fact / of life, impersonal to him.” He finishes with a question, poignant in its universality: “To move is to risk, and for what, / to where? So many things piled and poorly / placed. Always on the verge of tipping, shattering / in the dark, the whole living world trembling around.” Angela Sorby’s speaker has an epiphany while touring a large mansion: “The rich // are exactly like you and me, only their house is empty and the ring / where the cat’s cream sat has been sanded away” (“Nostalgia for the Present”). And Joseph Millar uses an anecdote about a “Stove” to recount his dead father. Overall, the issue favors fluid free verse with good rhythms and internal rhymes.
Bonnie Jo Campbell’s short story “The Inventor, 1972” tells of a hunter who accidentally hits his deceased friend’s niece with a car. While he runs for help, he remembers incidents which preceded and followed his friend’s death and made him the man he is today. And though Skip Horack’s story, “Little Man,” seems about a young man killing off a bear, the real poignancy comes in the young man’s interactions with his father who suffers from Parkinson’s.
Last but not least, I love the historical perspective Robert Clark Young emphasizes in his “The Death of the Death of the Novel.” I’ve read about the death of the novel in essays from Barth to Birkerts, but Young has a compelling argument: although people have been predicting the novel’s death for hundreds of years, somehow it keeps on flourishing. And it will continue to flourish, for reasons you will have to read yourself.
In the middle of the issue are Katherine Fraser’s captivating oil portraits; at the end are well-written notices and reviews. The issue made me renew my vow I would not miss any new work in The Southern Review.
[Editor's note: Jeanne Leiby is the new editor of The Southern Review.]