The Southeast Review is a true literary variety journal, with strengths of selection across all genres. The fiction is dominated by strong character stories and relationship observations, not so much on place. Even Kevin C. Stewart’s “Baton Rouge Parish” is less about NOLA and more about a couple’s relationship, which heats up when unsolved murders are splashed across the media. “The Rooftop” by Sarah Faulkner turns the coming-of-age theme on its head with this story of three sisters attempting to out-sex one another. It’s insightful and so real it almost hurts to keep reading. “Fourteen Carousels” by Fulbright Jones and “The Travel Writer” by Joey R. Poole, the other fiction in this collection, are similar in that they are gutsy, human, and at times hurt our reality check centers.
While normally favoring non-fiction, the selections in this issue took the back seat for me. “Practice” by Ryan Van Meter did manage to steal my heart, with his resistance to even want to “try” to play softball to appease his parents. “Chambermaid” by Melissa Febos supports the adage that sometimes life is stranger than fiction (and the “I’m not sure I needed to know that”), and Brian Oliu’s “Exception Handling” is a play on using computer language to create a kind of autobiography. While each is a good story (or style), I can’t help but feel that there’s something deeper, a layer or two down that these just aren’t quite reaching.
Strong imagery drives the poetry selections. Jennifer Frayer-Griggs’s “On Interstate 10”: “But when they collected / your shoes and teeth from the drainage ditch, / and you, almost asleep like a dog on his paws”; “Kitchen Duty” by Greg McBride: “One week one arm, the next her rear, / the other arm, the other cheek, a succession / of bodily X’s whose intersections / mark the very heart of her”; and Angela Vogel’s two works, “The Enchanted Forest” and the “The Huntsman’s Resume” both careen between abstract and concrete and demand rereading for the greatest appreciation. Though, “Map as Mirror” by Amisha Patel is my top pick, following the weave of personal and political: “My absence through life was a gift / to that country: / a pair of eyes that drowns her mirror [. . .] faces shamed since war into our / wonder and the media in heat / with this entangling myth: America is to be loved.”
Not always the case for TSR, this issue is packed – almost too much – with three interviews. The first with Clive Barker, the second with Hal Crowther and Lee Smith, and the third with Daniel Woodrell. Normally, one interview helps to set a frame of reference for the journal – the wise words of the seasoned author coming through again and again while reading the rest of the works. But here, though they can be drawn together on a theme of self identity/expected identity/breaking free of identities – they overshadow the rest of the publication, creating too much “talk” going on. Still, each is very much worth a read for the valuable insights only such well crafted interviews can provide.
Note: A bonus for teachers – TSR offers extremely helpful Teacher’s Guides online for this and several back issues.