Issue seventeen of the Yalobusha Review opens with a quote by Barry Hannah: “The brain wants a song. You steal it, and then you smile a while, hoping it will stand, for your friends and even enemies, while we are alive and dying.” The type of song Hannah is talking about can only be found in good writing. This literary journal from the University of Mississippi delivers a satisfying playlist of fiction, poetry, and interviews that will keep you, your friends, and your enemies (alive or dead) smiling for a long time.
What pleases me most about this issue is the amount of weird and unsettling works. Take, for instance, the first sentence of Kristine Ong Muslim’s piece of short fiction, “Nobody’s Beast”: “When Jenna found the child inside the Kellogg’s cereal box, its pink form was just as big as her outstretched palm.” Delicious. Muslim’s work is based off of Paul Booth’s “Defiance.” Just try to look at Booth’s oil painting without letting your skin crawl (go ahead, just try). Muslim does a fantastic job of depicting the same surreal nature in her prose as she shows the reader what one woman does with a special prize she finds in her cereal box.
Another favorite of mine is Tory Adkisson’s “The Stuff of Nightmares.” Adkisson decorates his poem with monsters from folklore, myth, and pop culture to create a wonderful portrait of horrors. Here are some of my favorite lines:
Grendel might drag me from a mead hall
tonight by my hair & cut his teeth on my gristle
before a single dragon lurches from its cave to gnaw on
The speaker of this poem begins to address the reader directly, as if he or she is something that is terrifying and awe-inspiring. The last line of this poem will stay in my head for a long time (not like it is a bad thing): “Here, bite off my fingers so they can be your candles.”
“The Octopus Wrestler” by JS Khan lays on more weirdness with the story of “Stingray” Radcliffe Stevens and how he became sucked into the seedy life of professional octopus wrestling. Stevens becomes entangled by the lies and deceptions of his employer, who promises him “heroics beyond those witnessed at Rome’s Coliseum” but fails to mention the fact that the gladiators who performed said heroics were slaves to Rome. The situation is completely absurd (the sport of “elephant polo” exists in this same world), but the feelings of lost glory and entrapment are genuine; the reader feels just as entangled as Stevens by the end as he leaps into the pool in front of a screaming crowd one last time. This story also has some of the most erotic descriptions of octopus tentacles I have ever read: “all its elaborate grandeur, tendrils uncoiling in strands across a nebulous void, impossibly phallic, irresistibly labic, the loneliest creature alive yet possessing a gliding elegance like a woman in a lace dress.”
The issue concludes with interviews with Mary Miller, Michael Chabon, and Lynn Emanuel. My favorite interview is with Chabon, who explains the power of language. Getting lost in a good story is a “momentary sense of escape,” but the reader knows this and embraces it. “It’s a series of tricks but it’s a magical one, true magic, and it lasts no longer than it takes to read the story, but it’s still a wonderful thing.” Amen, brother. Yalobusha Review deserves praise for its latest magic act, and I hope it will continue to surprise and delight readers in future issues.