The winter 2008 edition of the Antioch Review is titled “Breaking the Rules,” though, as Robert S. Fogarty explains in his editorial, this is “no grand theme but a series of fragments and broken rules.” The authors in this issue explore rule-breaking in many different ways, some through form, others through subject or theme.
The first essay, “Vickie’s Pour House: A Soldier’s Peace,” by Maureen McCoy, presents a daughter’s exploration of her father’s rule breaking as she learns the details of his double life: one part spent at home with his family, and the other in bars, drinking with friends. The theme of dualism and the challenges it presents is also investigated in Robert Rosenstone’s essay, “My Wife, Their Sister,” a surprising and informative piece about a Jewish man traveling in the Middle East with his Muslim wife.
The poetry is gathered together in one section and, as I looked through the poems, I realized that this approach helps highlight and develop themes. “Winter,” by Brian Willems, sets the tone, describing the season with a series of sounds and images: “stopped by knot stout near black / slivers dry needles and the Funnies.” This theme of weather is carried through the next four poems, until Stephen Burt’s poem, “After Rain,” provides a link into more general subjects. The last three poems also share a theme, using animals to provide key images. Reading these poems is like being taken on a literary tour, through several related but diverse poetic universes.
My two favorite pieces of fiction play with the “rules” of story writing. In Peter LaSalle’s “What I Found Out About Her,” the narrator circles the plot, hiding details of the story under obsessive, numbered rants. This could come off as contrived, but instead, the form contributes to characterization of the protagonist and provides suspense. “Lily Pad,” by Andrew Wingfield, features characters breaking racial and class stereotypes. In order to fully develop this theme, Wingfield switches between two first person points of view.
Overall, this Antioch Review’s collection of rule-breaking, while nothing radical, was refreshing.