ZYZZYVA publishes prose, poetry, and artwork from West Coast writers and artists. This regional focus is hardly limiting as this issue is made for consistently compelling reading. The stories are on the longer side, allowing the writers to burrow down into the characters, whose lives skew towards the bleary and darkly complicated.
In “Oh, Oh, Oh,” Chaney Kwak’s first published piece of fiction, the paths of two different Jacks—a Jackson and a Jacques—intersect when one chats with the other online, trying to arrange for sex. The story starts before the two meet, and continues after, but it is their encounter—on Christmas Eve, in a house with decorative lighting so legendary it is covered in a TV news story—that defines this bleak yet hopeful tale. Like the holidays, the story contains both depressing and uplifting features, and Kwak’s distilled writing neatly plays those facets off of each other.
Andy Stewart’s “Synesthesia” concerns classical music and the dismal nature of academic politics. It is narrated by a slightly off-his-rocker piano professor who is in deep competition with another pianist in the department to replace the department chair, whose wife is sick. Or, the narrator at least thinks he’s locked in a competitive struggle, for the story is colored by his unreliable viewpoint, and it is only at the end that his viewpoint is re-aligned with reality, a position that sits as well with him as a strong punch in the face. Stewart’s writing illuminates the petty nature of longstanding disagreements and how they infuse character.
“Sawmill” by Earle McCartney starts off: “Less than a week before the sudden death of his only son, Miller Dolbow bought a sawmill.” The story concerns the circuitous nature of mistakes, how easy they are to make and repeat, and how unconsidered actions can come to be defining moments. Without being heavy-handed, the story explores how the activities undertaken by Miller Dolbow in this story could come to be seen as responsible for leading to his son’s death.
The middle section of ZYZZYVA features a series illustrations and writing by Wendy MacNaughton called “Pier 70 In Its Own Words.” The drawings and narratives trace the transformation of Pier 70, a formerly defunct shipyard that is being developed into commercial and residential property. This change mirrors the changes that have swept the whole of San Francisco, and MacNaughton’s carefully inked pictures explore this neighborhood and the particulars of its remaking.
ZYZZYVA contains excellent, extremely strong writing and innovative artwork; the stories unfurl with surprising depth and compassion. There is not an uninteresting piece in this issue.