Doing justice to the 25th Anniversary issue of Conjunctions in a brief review is almost a crime in and of itself. Simply put: you won’t know where to start. I recommend Bradford Morrow’s introduction; this interposition of historical details and expressions of gratitude proves good preparation for the aggressive experimentation that ensues. The first offering, by Jonathan Lethem, features the antics of various characters marooned on an island after an airplane crash, who, as they document their disparate reflections of the enclosed landscape, collectively call into question the anthologizing process. Similarly, Rick Moody’s contribution reads like an acidic installment of “Sedaratives” from The Believer: a verbose advice columnist’s gleeful delivery of Mencken-esque dismissals is interrupted by the intrusion of a square-jawed, simple-minded, weightlifting, gun-toting allegorical figure called “American Literature,” who eventually shoots out the columnist’s entrails before fleeing to New Mexico.
Conjunctions stories always gesture to something beyond the page, and almost as often, the gesture reveals a longing for the innocence inherent in the act of gesturing. To wit, Rosmarie Waldrop’s excellent “By the Waters of Babylon” offers tight-lipped factual descriptions of Iraq, tempered by statements like, “I would prefer to explain the wind. The sun. The Adam’s Apple.” If there’s something deliberately naïve in Moody, there’s something disturbingly satiated in Waldrop. In fact, the most arresting contribution to the anthology, Lydia Davis’ “Burning Family Members,” is the one that best synchronizes the inherent loneliness of an experimental gesture with an object (in this case, a dying professor). Unfortunately, adequate delineation of Conjunctions’ contents would take pages. At the risk of judging a book by its cover, I suggest simply turning Conjunctions #47 over and scanning its list of contributors. Joyce Carol Oates, William H. Gass, John Ashbery, Peter Straub, Edmund White, John Barth and Diane Williams—along with 38 others—fill the pages of this text. Or are you going to wait around until the 50th birthday?