As always, The Briar Cliff Review makes a strong impression from the second it is placed in your hands. The journal’s large pages offer poetry, fiction, and nonfiction room to breathe and allow pieces of graphic art to be reproduced in flattering detail. In her introductory note, Editor Tricia Currans-Sheehan affirms her obvious desire to embrace the “print-ness” of the review. The magazine, she says, “is for holding and looking and for leafing through—with a treat for the eye and mind on each page.”
The fiction in this issue examines the human experience on both the micro and macro levels. Kevin Leahy won the journal’s latest fiction contest with “Remora, IL,” a story that depicts the economic recovery and cultural evolution of a small Midwestern town. Leahy’s third-person narrator speaks for everyone in the community: “We were desperate, it’s true. That doesn’t excuse what happened, but we don’t know what we could have done differently.” The city, Remora, had been kept alive for decades by an auto plant that was shuttered, leaving folks to stretch whatever remaining dollars existed. Corvus Correctional offered a lifeline, turning Remora into a prison town. Leahy measures the effects on small businesses, the schools, the folks fortunate enough to land a job as a guard in the new facility, and even on Helen Bree of the crumb cake social. Melancholy abounds as those in Remora reflect upon what they have gained and have lost.
Steven Wingate’s “Davey’s Room” centers upon a far smaller focus that is just as meaningful: a man’s regret that he hasn’t met the long-lost son he and an ex-girlfriend conceived years earlier. The title refers to a secret room in an abandoned silo that served as a secure and convenient place for young people to spend time together. Wingate employs a delicate touch that allows the narrator’s private anguish to emerge. “I’m a 98 percent husband and father even on my best days,” the narrator admits, “keeping that last 2 percent for a kid I’ll never see.” The story’s concluding image is both appropriate and poignant.
“The Meaning of Meat” is Deborah Thompson’s sad meditation on the rational meaning of death, to creatures great and small. Thompson examines the issue through the prism of two important events: the death of her partner Rajiv and the adoption and death of a stray cat they took in. After Rajiv’s death, Kitty commemorated the human she loved and cared for by leaving an eviscerated squirrel atop the man’s car. A sacrifice. Thompson later had to deal with Kitty’s death alone, making her last years as happy as possible, cramming the cat’s menu with as much meat-based food as possible. The “meaning of meat,” it would seem, is related to the relationship we all share with the natural world: we emerged from the biosphere and will return to its bosom in due time.
A wide range of materials and aesthetics are represented in this issue’s graphic art. Particularly striking works include Hal Holoun’s “Morning Watch” and Ken Peterson’s “Fiddlehead No. 4.” The former is a sunrise painted in oil on linen in somewhat impressionistic style. The burnt orange light cast from the sun is reflected in a calm stream in the middle of a field overgrown with wild brush. There are spots of electric light on the horizon; could these represent humanity preparing for another day? The latter work is a repositionable wood sculpture that evokes the gothic whimsy of Tim Burton. The work’s alternating white and black cylinders taper as they curve, resembling a strange kind of tentacle. The way light plays upon the sculpture is interesting; the parts closest reveal great detail and the parts furthest are in muddled shadow.
The Briar Cliff Review is a perennial favorite because it appeals to a particularly wide demographic. The volume looks great on a coffee table, and the work inside is good enough to immediately captivate anyone who browses through the journal’s pages.