This issue of the Mississippi Review somehow evokes a European tone, though the journal is firmly rooted in the Deep South. Editor Frederick Barthelme’s selections for the Review’s fiction and poetry prizes are united by the narrative risks taken by the authors. These gambles pay off for the most part, resulting in work that grabs more attention than conventional work while still fulfilling the reader’s craving for the standard story elements, including plot, character and setting.
David Driscoll’s “Circling in the Air” is a memorable story because of the skill with which the author immerses the reader inside the consciousness of Wang, a quality control worker in an underwear plant. Driscoll’s choices combine to bring life and dignity to a person about whom we would not otherwise think. Inspector Number Seven is no longer a number on a tag you find folded into your “whitey-tighties.” Wang’s charming first-person narration very quickly turns the reader into a friend, and the events of Wang’s life convince the reader that both tragedy and mercy have meaning for each of us.
Jim Ruland transports the reader decades earlier and a continent away in “Where the White Foam Kissed My Feet.” Ruland recounts the story of Klaus, a U-boat radio operator who is the sole survivor of the sinking of his vessel. Just as much of a character is the Jenkins-Wren Maritime Manor, the facility in neutral Portugal in which Klaus recuperates from his wounds, both physical and psychological. An interesting examination of the joys of loneliness and isolation, Ruland’s story features many lines as graceful and delicate as his title.
Perhaps one reason writers do what they do is the chance at forging a kind of immortality for themselves or for others. Tribute poems are certainly nothing new, but Martin Lammon’s “The Holy Land” combines joy and grief, creating the best kind of eulogy. Instead of thinking of death as a loss and its undiscovered country as a void, Lammon reminds the reader of the universe’s yin and yang:
The mud puddle is holy to the sparrow
and to the mud. The empty space
between branches is not empty and is
holy, mid-leap, to the gray squirrel.
The cumulative effect of this award-winning poetry and prose is a kind of pleasant displacement. While some pieces may be too abstract for fans of realism, there are enough experiments between the journal’s covers to satisfy and enlighten any reader.