This issue of the Santa Monica Review features eleven stories introduced by a brief excerpt from each of the contributors (“Ab Intra”). The journal’s website describes its contents as fiction and nonfiction, though there is no genre classification in the TOC or the pages of the magazine. I’m tempted to refer to every entry simply as a “story” (real or imagined), though some pieces clearly do read more like fictive creations and others like “lived tales,” beginning with the opening piece in the issue, “Expert Opinion,” by Michelle Latiolais, a story about suicide, medical malpractice, and the fatal consequences of “adverse” reactions to commonly prescribed drugs.
One of the journal’s strengths is the range of subjects featured in the stories, from Judith Grossman’s personal account of time spent in the Israeli desert, to Christian A. Winn’s story of family, gambling, and losing one’s way through young adulthood; to Stephanie Kerley Schwartz’s prose-poem-y/sudden-fiction-like half-page, “Crow”: “She makes a plan to befriend a single crow.”
I was moved, in particular, by Michael Guista’s story, “Till Death do Us Part,” the strikethrough the literal embodiment of the story’s message; and by Karl Taro Greenfeld’s “Mickey Mouse,” the story of a Japanese painter in WWII. This is my favorite piece in the issue, though overall every piece is strong and the writing solid. Taro Greenfeld’s story is unique, original, emotionally satisfying, unexpected and unpredictably plotted. It is something of a relief, as well as immensely pleasurable, to read an original plot with uncommon characters, scenes, and situations. The prose is not unconventional and nothing about the author’s style or narrative tactics is particularly unusual or inventive, and neither need to be anything more than they are, a good – and interesting – story, told well.
A terrific reminder that there is more going in the world – and in the history of the world – than the disaffection of youth, the inertia of middle age, and aging parents.