The Laurel Review is another solid literary journal from the “Show Me State.” The editors and interns present a collection of strong works without fanfare or pretension. They are simply looking for good writing, and that’s exactly what you can expect to see in their latest issue.
“This Is My Domain” by Wendy Herlich features a boy genius narrating his struggle to cope with his parents’ estranged relationship and his raging hormones. Vladimir, our narrator, is twelve years old and enrolled in a university. His mother is a geneticist, and his father is a professor of Chinese history. This is a family of super intelligent people: “I can almost hear their minds working, my dad’s whirring and clicking like an old-time film projector and my mom’s purring quietly, like a computer saving data to its C drive.” One would think Vladimir’s analytical and reasonable parents would have a stable relationship, but ripples of emotional tension fluctuate underneath the surface. They talk over each other and miss important body language that speaks of an unhappy marriage. Meanwhile, our narrator develops a crush for their new neighbor, a young woman who is attending the same university where he is studying. Despite his vast knowledge, Vladimir is clueless when it comes to talking to a person of the opposite sex: “My mouth is like a rebellious spokesman. I wish it would shut up. I find I can’t meet her eyes. I turn and stare at the contents of a drawer labeled ‘NUTS’ and wish I could climb inside and transform into a metal hexagon.” Herlich’s story shows that even smart people can flounder and get lost in the labyrinth of human relationships.
Another solid work of fiction in this issue is Marguerite Weisman’s “Right Knife.” Weisman does not waste words with the beginning of her story and grabs the reader by the throat: “In the springtime, when I was twenty-two, I was raped by a boy whose name I never learned, and so I left school.” Our narrator moves in with her grandmother in order to recuperate from her ordeal, but her misery only continues. Murdered seals are discovered on the beaches near her new home and her grandmother dies shortly after she moves in. Living alone, our narrator tries to make the best of her situation by going to work at a local diner and getting acquainted with the locals. Romance blossoms between her and Ronan, the diner’s cook. She is captivated by his boisterous mannerisms and warm personality, but danger lurks underneath:
His eyes. Dear god his eyes. They were a galvanic, hurricane blue. The blue that spurts out of down power lines. The hypnotic glow of jellyfish at night. And if anybody ever asks me about Ronan, at least I can say that his eyes were peaceful, in the way that dying of hypothermia is peaceful.
The love between these two grows despite this ominous foreshadowing. We almost believe there will be a Hallmark ending for these two, but just when our narrator has finally found some form of inner peace, her life spirals back into the cycle of violence and death. It is a gripping story that leaves you shaken.
“Lok Say” by Paul Hanstedt is a short essay that reveals a part of modern China that most Westerners don’t see. Hanstedt describes what he saw and felt during the anniversary of Tiananmen Square in a crowded Hong Kong park. He is both impressed and surprised at the mass of humanity voicing their anger and frustration of the Chinese government over loud speakers blaring Canto rock. The massacre happened decades ago, but the people at this demonstration are furious as if it only happened yesterday. Hanstedt weaves in facts and commentary on the state of China in this essay with a small touch of humor:
It has to be hard to be a Hong Konger when it comes to China. On the one hand, being linked to the PRC is like being the prom date of the coolest guy on campus. Everyone knows China is rising . . . China’s economy has grown between six and ten percent every year for the last decade. For the most part it was unscathed by the recent banking crisis. And it only knows the concept of trade imbalance from the grip end of the pistol.
Who wouldn’t want to dance with that guy?
Hanstedt makes some valid points. China is indeed a powerful country and may even come to dominate the coming century. But at what cost? Can this nation continue to prosper without resolving its history of violating human rights? Only time can tell.
Since it is a new year, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about Sam Donsky’s poem “Inception” because it opens with a celebratory mood:
in the spring; Happy Halloween
it is the Fourth of July. Let’s
celebrate, you say, strapped
for youth, shook to dust,
arriving younger in a stupor
at the Sprained Ankle Suite.
The poem is written in one long, unbroken stanza and the tone quickly descends into a state of drugged foolishness: “We snorted / first lines off the Floors of / Strangers. We stumped for / plot twists while you wore / your invisible dress.” Being foolish is not the same as lacking substance. Time and memories are recurrent themes here, creating a sense of regret and a longing to return to the past.
Another excellent poem in this issue is “Hidden” by Rosalynde Vas Dias. It is about an adult looking inward at the child she once was:
I used to be a doe goat
pirate, Captain of my own
ship in a picture book where the water-
color was deep and limpid and teaming.
The imagery of her animal pirate crew conjures the childish joy found in “Where the Wild Things Are” or a Dr. Seuss story. However, it is the nature of things to change and our speaker realizes she can’t go back to that world of make believe: “Animals don’t talk to me anymore. / Not in a language I understand.” But all is not lost! “The ship is gone. Sailing on / without me? Or broken, / inert in that desert under the dark water?”
The Laurel Review is definitely a journal to watch out for with its offerings of solid writing. I look forward to their next issue.