In this issue’s featured interview, author Dan Choan says, “A big part of my life has been feeling out of place in one world or another and trying to adjust to that sense of being alien all the time.” Displacement is a central theme in the fall issue of The Missouri Review, and the journal’s diverse settings keep readers moving as well. Most pieces at the beginning of the journal place readers abroad, showcasing the magazine’s attention to current political issues. It is about two-thirds of the way through that the stories take a turn toward cityscapes. (Burt Kimmelman’s urban nonfiction, Peter LaSalle’s NYC story and Kristine Somerville’s essay on graffiti art.) The final piece of fiction situates readers in rural Maine in Stephanie DeGhett’s story “Balsam.” We are constantly moving in this issue, but what ultimately unites all the included pieces is a thoughtfulness and quality of writing that make this issue a humbling, excellent read.
Jerry Gabriel’s story, “Dishonor,” the issue’s first piece, addresses issues relevant to international war at the individual level. Gabriel artfully mingles the story’s global, political thread with the isolation of Phillip Dante, a soldier just returning home for Iraq, struggling to forge connections with his family and ex-girlfriend. Triumphant in avoiding the tendency to glorify war and PTSD, Gabriel’s story delicately handles Phillip’s difficult transition home. Burt Kimmelman’s essay and Shara Lessley’s poems that follow explore similar themes. Though Kimmelman’s piece feels directionless at times, Lessley’s poems encourage readers to look at the effects of Middle Eastern conflicts on a personal level. Her poem “First Days: August” evokes powerful images of Iraq’s landscape from a foreigner’s perspective.
Peter LaSalle’s three-part story “Oh, Such Playwrights!” and Kristine Somerville’s essay on graffiti art both focus on people outside mainstream society. LaSalle’s piece tells the story of Kaleb, Bill, and Jim, whose tales are joined solely by their status as playwrights living in New York City. The last-page revelation that the three men spent a night stuck in a bar during a NYC snowstorm organically connects these characters’ lives and will make you want to read the entire piece again. Equally captivating is Somerville’s essay, which is both informative and insightful: “[It] was urban youth’s creative response to the bleakness. It was a way of making the city their own. Through art they claimed space and power.” Whether or not readers appreciate graffiti, Somerville insists, “we can all understand the allure of a blank wall and the eternal desire to declare, ‘I was here.’” Her eloquence and insight, while tracing the history of graffiti art, insists on new respect for an understated art form.
Stephanie DeGhett’s story “Balsam” is the journal’s only piece that thoroughly envelops readers in a rural setting, and in my opinion, contains the issue’s most effective writing. DeGhett’s fictional town of Clemency, Maine is reminiscent of Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, existing as an all-consuming entity for readers and characters alike.
When Abbie’s boyfriend suddenly leaves town without explanation, Abbie is living in an apartment attached to her ex’s mother’s house and decides to stay through the Christmas season. “[S]tranded among strangers,” Abbie opens a Christmas-tree stand on the outskirts of the small town and finds unexpected comfort there. DeGhett’s descriptions of Christmas’s “fearsome peppermint breath” and the “cold glitter of snow” are small examples of the wintriness that can be felt in the story’s every sentence: “She wasn’t entirely prepared for this, for a winter that was more than simply cold, more than snowfall, but a world that settled upon you, mantling thought, leaving you to tunnel through it with your own body heat, creating your own path with each burrowing step.”
On its website, The Missouri Review boasts its ability to find the best writers, and this fall’s issue is no exception. I quoted frequently in this review so that you wouldn’t have to take my word for it when I say that beautiful sentences fill, and warrant, the 180 pages of this journal. For its quality of thought and writing, this fall issue of the journal is well worth buying, annotating, and savoring.