I hear women’s voices when I read this magazine. I should: this is a “140-page, perfect-bound, all-women’s literary journal published annually by the University of Alabama at Birmingham”; every voice is a woman’s. But I didn’t expect to feel such a bond, such a connection, and I was unexpectedly moved as I read: these writers know how I feel, they live my life, they speak my language. I teach fiction writing, so I went to the story section first. Every story made me smile with recognition and appreciation, and each one left an echo in my mind, an impression I carried around with me as I do with the best literature—a new way of perceiving my ordinary world, no longer ordinary, thanks to these women writers.
I resonated with Louise Stark, the protagonist of Mary Jane Myers’s “Galileo’s Finger,” who, during a long-awaited trip to Italy, stumbles into a museum in Florence where the astronomer’s digit, locked in a gilded egg, suddenly directs her—yes, with His Greatness’s very voice—to abduct it and bury it in Fiesole. If she does, she will have everything she ever wanted. The astonishment I might feel if such a thing happened to me, the reticence, the guilty delight—all of these Myers captures, so that Louise’s utterly changed fortunes after that moment become my own, and I grin the rest of the evening. Why do I think only a woman could have written that story? I do. And I’m awfully glad she did.
But perhaps so could only a woman (Tara Ison) have written the bittersweet “Andorra.” This story is structured like its subject—an illicit love, hidden in the folds of another story, the story of a “sad little trip” to that “plucky little country” between Spain and France whose principal claim to fame is its duty-free tourist trade. We get funny dialogue here, between the narrator, who is single (“I’m always a solo team,” she says, referring to games of Trivial Pursuit but meaning life in general), and her coupled-up friends, in Andorra and back home. The conversation is funny and sad at once, as though everyone is carefully distracting themselves from the pathos of their complicated, separate lives. We learn all about Andorra (pretty pathetic), we learn a lot about the couples who can’t live together for various perverse reasons, and it isn’t until the end that we discover the narrator’s not as solo as she’s led us to believe—but she’s no more “with” anyone than any of the others, either. I think only a woman could see the multiple levels of sadness here, the secret desires that aren’t being met.
The image on the front cover is of a disco ball. The last of the pieces in the nonfiction section, Bebe Barefoot’s “Sparkle and Spin,” circles around the image of a disco ball (which is, she says, “nothing but a chandelier that stepped outside its self-evident limitedness, got over itself and joined the circus”) offered to her by a friend and refused. She’s been sorry ever since. So now she tells the story of “getting out of Dodge” and finishing her dissertation, only to be hit by lightning. This is a smart, lovable piece, circling back to reflect and shed light on (like a disco ball) “the Dodge I escaped” as she reclaims it and returns to the best of what she left behind. I adored this wry memoir of self-discovery and pride in motherland, geographical and biological. I don’t think a man could have written a word of it.
Other memoirs, and stories, too, ring like the ripples of bell-tones with women’s concerns: the death of a child; the loss of a parent to age, mental illness, and addiction; the suddenness of accident; and the inescapability of illness. The poetry deals, too, with love, desire, art. One of my favorites (but they’re all my favorite in this volume), “Worry” by Holly Karapetkova, caresses the hysteria we mothers feel about our babies:
If you’ve left the baby alone in her crib,
then the shower sounds like a baby screaming
the hair drier sounds like a baby screaming
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
and you’re running back
to the bedroom soaking wet
you’re running back to the bedroom
soap still on your back,
you’re running back to the bedroom
tomatoes dropping from your fingers
Yes. If you’ve left the baby alone in her crib, you know exactly how this feels.
The issue begins with an interview of four women filmmakers who offer their unique take on “the industry.” Happily, for most of them sexism isn’t an issue, but the always-present need of women to balance work and family fills their warm, intelligent conversation.
If you’re a woman, or if you love a woman, subscribe to this magazine. I can’t wait to read archived issues to find more of my life reflected in its words.