South Loop Review is the creative nonfiction and art annual published by the English Department of Columbia College Chicago, and though said to “give greater emphasis to non-linear narratives and blended genres,” I would say the publication as a whole is fairly balanced in its variety. It might be more accurate to say the non-linear and blended genres are the stronger and more lasting pieces in this issue.
I had high hopes for SLR’s opening piece in graphic novel format, “Dear Livia: Syria and Turkey,” a novel excerpt designed and written by Kay Hartman with Ibrahim Parlak and Kathy Zmuda. The story is about Parlak’s imprisonment and torture by the Turkish government and his eventual release. Though Hartmann expresses concern that the format may seem to simplify or “dumb down” the message, predecessor works such as Maus and Persepolis likewise take on serious subject matter and have mass appeal. The falling short came perhaps in this portion being too condensed. The eight panel length causing the story to seem detached and exactly what Hartman feared, distilled too far down. The images left me a bit uneasy as well – a kind of South Park styling that seems oversimplified. However, I think the fairest read of this would be in its full novel form, which leaves something to be said for journals excerpting works to the extent that they may actually do a disservice to the original.
Luckily, the next work is SLR was by far the most incredible selection, and not one I would have picked as such when I started reading. “God Damned the Land but Lifted the People: or, Redemption in Three Levitations” by Joshua Foster is a neatly woven, broken narrative about farming, mice, boys and guns. It is carefully constructed layers of story, moving between Foster’s memories of growing up, shooting animals for the heck of it, his adult life in college and on the farm, and lines from such notables as Aristotle, Borges, and lesser-knowns Nicholas Collias (on the aggression in vertebrates), and J.P. Scott (his explanation of the behavioral differences between mice and rats). Believe me, I never thought I would care, and was at first a bit impatient with the back and forth style (always wondering: where is this going? is this going anywhere?) But, the weave is tight and carries the narrative through to an ending which, quite by surprise, caught me with tears in my eyes.
The linear works in SLR found me much less satisfied. While well-written on accounts of maturity of style, description, dialogue, etc., it was the end of several that left me feeling flat. I am certainly no anti-slice-of-life-stylist, but at the same time, I feel that the whole of a piece should take me somewhere, whether the author directly shows me this, as in Kelly Clink’s “A Last Winter” and Patricia Hirsch’s “Altered Mental Status Resolved,” hints at it with a clear sense of conclusion, as in Rick Kempa’s “Capable of Killing,” or lilts away in an almost poetic diminuendo, as in Michele Gazzolo’s “Hotel El Vapor” and Andrea Cumbo’s “Saving My Mother’s Head.” These were works that showed strength of narrative style overall.
SLR establishes their openness to experimental forms, including mixed genre works like Cheryl Merrill’s “Capturing the Story,” which includes two versions/perspectives of her visit to a watering hole in Africa combined with photos of elephants; Doug Rice’s “Untitled Photo Essay,” which begins, “Without any photographic evidence, it was as if Doug’s childhood never existed”; several story art panels from Guy R. Beining; and MK Czerwiec’s comic, “Steph’s Shoes,” a one-page, eight-panel story of the relationship between “Comic Nurse” Czerwiec and a patient.
With few journals devoted solely to creative nonfiction, and even fewer including art and experimental forms of narrative, South Loop Review is one of those publications to keep tabs on to know what’s going on with the form and where it’s headed.