Whiskey Island is the literary magazine of Cleveland State University, and, according to their website, the name comes from a neighboring peninsula that has gone through several metamorphoses over the years: “it has been a dump, a US Coast Guard Station, a ship graveyard, and a predominantly Irish immigrant shanty town.” This peninsula now shares the name with a magazine that is rich with strong fiction and poetry.
“A Little Bit of Nothing” by Roxane Gay is a tale of two sisters and how their relationship is pushed to the edge while living under one roof. Ursula is mature, has a job, and is married to a responsible, career-driven man. Candace, on the other hand, acts like she is still in high school and has developed a taste for more exotic thrills: “When Candace moved in with her sister and brother-in-law, she was fresh out of a relationship with Peter the Mathematician. Two days earlier, Peter had broken up with Candace when she told him her favorite smell in the whole wide world was the smell of heroin in a spoon cooking over an open flame.” The point of view is centered on Candace as she stays at home to satisfy her addiction while her sister and brother-in-law go to work. We catch a glimpse into her drug-induced consciousness and see her self-destructive tendencies: “There was something appealing about destitution, living on a little bit of nothing.” Her sister knows Candace is doing drugs, but cannot bring herself to kick her sister out because they still love each other very much. But everything changes when Ursula discovers she is pregnant. This is a moving story that makes you want to believe that everything will turn out alright, but Candace and her addiction only continues to spiral out of control. This is a great story, but you’ll have to look elsewhere if you want a happy ending.
Michelle Donahue takes us to the realm of fantasy in her short story “What You Need to Slay Dragons.” The story reads like a detailed checklist and survival guide to hunting down and slaying dragons. You will need essential items such as bandages, bows and arrows, binoculars, more bandages, a canoe, and beer: “Lots of it. Aluminum cans of something cheap, so you can drink a lot and drink in the canoe.” A story about a dragon hunt is weaved into this checklist, but the plot gets complicated when certain secrets are revealed: “Day four: you write sick love poems to the dragons. Because you do love them. And hate them. They are beautiful and mean and you need them now.” The ending is sad and heralds a loss of innocence, but that’s what makes this story stand out. I highly recommend this one, dear reader, but remember: “Dragons are magical and can do whatever shit they want.”
Another good story is “A Train Leaves the Station” by Sarah Scoles. It is about relationships, regret, and trains. Lora’s boyfriend, Brian, is a high school math teacher who loves trains. Lora does not:
She hates railroads. The passenger trains are always delayed, especially when you’re leaving from a station with inadequate shelter and it’s February; the freight trains delay traffic and wake her up at night in the middle of dreams in which she is having sex with people who are not her boyfriend, which she likes, even though she loves him.
Lora’s inner conflict stems from dead end jobs and a growing disconnection from Brian, who is clueless and seems more interested in trains than Lora’s problems. Her dream on the night before their vacation sums up her feelings of alienation quite nicely: “She dreams that she is at an airport and has forgotten her identification.”
Zachary Green’s “Year of the Pulled Pork Sandwich” is a delicious poem with great sensory details. The lines and words are stretched and pulled apart like the sandwich, creating a very pleasing marriage of words and imagery. The lack of punctuation pulls the reader along a string of dream-like prose: “When the film is not happening / I interpret / my athleticism / what lightning lives like inside of / the mammoth on the threshold.”
Laurel Hunt’s “Plant Eats Bird” is another solid poem. The style and punctuation is reminiscent of e.e. cummings: “you are mauled by the most beautiful lions. it is twenty-ten, c.e. / in that year you are always mauled by the most beautiful lions. / then your body makes benzoin.”
Whiskey Island is simply a solid journal full of strong works. If you can choose which island you would want to be stranded on, you’d better make it Whiskey Island.