Hunger Mountain is a sophisticated, grown-up journal that commands attention, respect, and serious consideration. Fiction contributions are fully formed, adeptly crafted examples of storytelling, full-blown narratives with characters whose trajectories we want to follow. Poems are an inspired blend of small philosophies couched in indelible images. A portfolio of paintings, an artist’s statement, and descriptions of the paintings mimic a visit to the finest art gallery.
Nora Khan’s story, “The Quarry,” winner of the magazine’s Howard Frank Mosher Short Fiction Award, is a poignant, beautifully composed coming-of-age narrative of a young man’s encounter with the adult realities of the hardships of work, illness, and aging. Its strength is restraint as the story manages to tug at our heartstrings ever-so-quietly. Khan is a recent Harvard College and Iowa workshop grad, a youthful, promising writer. I am glad to see fresh, un-jaded writing from a younger writer.
We are treated here, as well, to poems from Rita Dove’s new collection out this spring from W.W. Norton, Sonata Mulattica. Dove is the master of economy, the best at saying more by saying less, able to tell a big story in a small space. She knows how to make sound work in the service of drama and drama work in the service of lyricism:
As if music were a country,
he’d filled the biggest assembly rooms
on the busiest square of the capital city;
he’d played the best parties,
saw Beau Brummel blast protocol
with a single non-nod of his chin.
That had been during his concert season,
when everyone was buzzing;
he had owned the Pall Mall,
didn’t that count for something?
Another exceptionally fine contribution is the translation of “The Debt,” a story by Serbian writer Danilo Kis, translated by Dr John K. Cox. (Cox also contributes several translations of German poems by Stefan Heym.) “The Debt” is a compact and moving story of aging. Clear-eyed and clever. The translation reads flawlessly, the reader doesn’t pine for the original.
There are many fine, mature poems, including work by Dellana Diovisalvo and Keith Flynn; a terrific prose poem from Patricia Smith, “Autobiography, the First Draft”; and a novel excerpt by Mary Grimm, “Moonville,” that definitely has me eager for the rest of the book.
George Terry McDonald’s paintings are fabulous and fascinating. Intricate. Bold. Complicated. Drawing on so many references and familiar images and histories, with novel twists and surprising perspectives. (“Sick Day Games – Montezuma’s Torture Set,” “The Cleansing of the Temple,” “Urban Fox Hunt,” among them.) They are accompanied by long and illuminating descriptions, fascinating unto themselves, and an astute and self-aware Artist’s Statement: “Lines between political and personal realities are blurred or intertwined . . . high and low culture enjoy equal billing with truth and fiction, news and entertainment, history . . . and poetry.”
A story I found exceptionally satisfying by Robert Dall, “Cool White,” opens enticingly with the line, “In the beginning all I wanted was a normal life.” When I finished this issue, all I wanted was another issue of Hunger Mountain.