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The Idaho Review - 2009

  • Issue Number: Volume 10
  • Published Date: 2009
  • Publication Cycle: Annual

This tenth anniversary issue opens with founding editor Mitch Wieland’s summary, among other remarks, of one marker of his journal’s success: from the first nine issues, nine stories or poems were reprinted in major awards anthologies (best ofs, etc.), another 15 stories were short-listed for these prizes. The Editor’s Note is followed by tributes from more 19 writers to the late Carol Houck Smith, editor at W.W. Norton & Company for 60 years. Maxine Kumin writes that Houck Smith was “everything an editor should be: compassionate, demanding, supportive, and seldom wrong.” Joan Silber remembers that she “loved her writers and she loved her city.” Charles Baxter praises Houck Smith’s worldliness, something he considers essential in a “fine editor.”

The Houck Smith tributes are followed by 12 stories, many from household names in contemporary literary fiction (Rick Bass, Chris Offutt, Stuart Dybek, Peter Fromm); a chapbook of poems by Joseph Millar; 13 poems by three major players on the poetry scene (Lawrence Raab, Debora Greger, Michael Waters); and a special feature of “illustrated fiction” (graphic short story) by Pinckney Benedict, titled “Orgo Vs. the Flatlanders.”

Natural, credible, casual voices are characteristic of the fiction, voices that draw in the reader because they seem familiar, eager to tell a good tale, but not overly determined to sell themselves. These stories display impressive mastery of the form. Particularly striking is Brad Watson’s “Noon,” a model of restraint, which opens: “The doctors had delivered Beth and Tex’s only child stillborn, in breach, and he had come apart,” which succeeds in giving us an enormous amount of information, subtly, in a tremendously efficient sentence. I liked very much Mark Jacobs’ “Last Word,” which begins: “Nobody thought to look in the freezer for Anibal’s pants,” and William Giraldi’s “Sasquatch Love Song” is more deliberately aware of itself as a story and more lyrically inclined than most of the fiction this issue. It starts: “Let me unspool this story a little more – she was comet and car crash and all things about to burst my Gillian.”

Millar’s chapbook consists of nine poems, reflections on place, people/characters as they fit in a particular landscape, and, mental/emotional states. Here is an excerpt from the title poem:

Your knuckles relax and your hands
open slowly each time you enter
the house of sleep
which you will never own,
its black windows shinig
on the black lawn
smelling of cloves

While I am not a fan of graphic fiction, Benedict’s work appears sophisticated on many levels and a worthy contribution to the genre, and I appreciated very much his introductory note in which he reveals the motivation for turning to the form:

I found myself asking a question that comes to me more and more these days – “Why write?” How can I make myself excited about the process of writing again? Surprisingly, on this day, the answer seems simple. Create a comic. (I cannot draw a lick, so why this seemed obvious escapes me now – but it sure did make the whole process a challenge.) Make it a comic about the central conflict in the universe, which, if you are a fellow who like me grew up in Appalachia, is obviously the war in which the indomitable hillbillies descend from their mountain fastnesses to take on the rest of the world.


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Review Posted on April 19, 2010

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