One of the merits of nonfiction narratives is that they indulge human curiosity about others’ lives. The fall issue of River Teeth, a magazine dedicated solely to narrative nonfiction, includes eleven true stories, all of which quickly and convincingly pull you into the authors' lives for brief, powerful episodes. While some stories uniquely explore common phenomena like homesickness, others offer coveted glimpses into rare experiences. The four most memorable stories in the collection are those whose subject matter and narrative voice are equally captivating.
In “Attraction Next Exit,” Kim Dana Kupperman entices us on her road trip with her kindness and curiosity. One of the best parts of this story is how Kupperman eases readers into her complicated past. For instance, a reference to her mother’s suicide reappears throughout the story and snowballs into at-length discussions of Virginia Woolf’s famous suicide and the four loved ones Kupperman has lost to suicide. Another merit of this piece is how gently anecdote flows into philosophy in her internal narration. At one point, she stops to help a dying bird while driving:
Why did I persist in trying to save a bird whose death was unavoidable? Did I need a witness to my act of responsibility? Or was I motivated by guilt, a response I consider useless, a reaction I’ve refused to entertain ever since my mother’s suicide . . . Perhaps shame led me [to help]. . . .
Is regret—that twin of guilt—surfacing now as I fervently hope that I’m not riding around with a dead bird . . . stuck to the front of my vehicle? If there is a bird splattered against the grille of the car, I hope it remains unobserved, like other small and large acts triggered by guilt or shame or regret.
This same introspection can be found in Michelle Herman’s “No Place Like Home.” One of the journal’s longest narratives, Herman’s piece explores her experience with home, as a location and an idea, which manifests itself in her unending longing for the eleven apartments she’s lived in. In its psychological complexity, Herman’s account has a powerful, unsettling effect. What seems like simple, nostalgic descriptions often allude to the more complicated root of Herman’s feelings about home:
These visits have no purpose, it’s true. But why would that stop me from making them? . . . It has nothing to do with accomplishing anything. It’s about continuity. It’s about memory and love. It’s about once home, always home. And that building, that apartment, still feels like home to me.
These are the most direct terms in which Herman tries to explain her habit, and she never does fully delve into the causes of her attachment.
Cynthia Anne Brandon’s “Dear Ted, Jack, Jim or Some Other One-Syllable Name,” is a three-page letter that she wrote to a man she met two years ago on a camping trip. Though she doesn’t remember the man’s name, she can’t stop thinking about him. While Brandon mentions her discontent and envy of his nomadic existence, most of the details about their interaction are left out of the piece.
Another short piece, “Love & Fury” by Richard Hoffman recounts an hour spent at the kitchen table during which time Hoffman’s father finalizes his will and confesses to an affair to Hoffman and his brother. Amidst the one-hour sit-down, the narrator is pitched back into childhood memories, which he now sees in a new light. Perhaps the issue’s most consciously insightful narrative voice, Hoffman is able to step out of his retrospection and notes his inability to fully understand his parents’ marriage because of his role as “the child.”
I was impressed by the diversity of stories chosen for this issue. Like books on a bookshelf, each story seems to exist worlds away from those around it. Though, not all the tales in the journal will appeal to all readers, each of these eleven stories offers well-told glimpses into the lives of the authors. This authenticity, the resounding echo that this really happened, makes their tales even more enticing.