The Antioch Review is a literary magazine produced in Ohio since 1941 and is one of the oldest literary magazines still published in America. It contains essays, fiction, and poetry from a variety of authors and has played a role in literary history, having included pieces produced by some of the most well-known writers, like Ralph Ellison and Sylvia Plath. The Spring 2018 issue of The Antioch Review sticks to the theme of “Love & Kisses, Lust & Wishes.” It’s an issue about love, about lust, about what we could want, and about what we never got to keep.
In this issue, I found myself drawn to a few of the pieces, such as “One Girl” by Sheila Kohler. Kohler tells the story of a woman and the relationships she formed throughout her life. She shares thoughts about her distant father and mother and how losing her father changed life for her and her family. She shares about the teacher she grew fond of, the first boy she was ever obsessed with, and then how she took his best friend as her husband. When her husband’s indiscretions become too much, she tells about how she has left him, her children all off to college now except for the youngest daughter. She finds love in another man, her second husband, but their relationship is split between each other, his job, and his children, so she has to seek her love elsewhere—which she eventually does, in her writing. Words are the best and truest form of love in her life, better than she found anywhere else, a sentiment many readers can likely relate to.
In a story of greater passion for marriage, Maureen Pilkington’s “Toward the Norwegian Sea” seems to be about a young woman (Toshy) married to a man whom she only gets to visit every so often. As the story progresses, we learn about the deceit, about the man’s other wife, and about Toshy’s own distant observation of the events around her. She seems almost entranced throughout the story, telling what happened as if in a daze, unaware of the seriousness of it all. She considers how she might be a friend to this man’s other wife, telling the wife about how she married him, despite this being illegal considering he is already married. When the wife finds a dreadful sight on the floor of the bathroom, Toshy seems oblivious to it all, handing papers and photos to the police before she plans her flight back overseas and what she might do once she gets there. Lust was certainly a prominent, driving thread in this story; with such dire consequences, Pilkington shines a light on the darker side of attraction.
In addition to these interesting stories, the poems in this issue are also incredibly intriguing. For instance, “A Magpie at Rush Hour” by Grzegorz Wroblewski, translated by Piotr Gwiazda, points to how watching the freedom of a magpie, able to spread its wings and fly away, is so much more appealing than watching the “exhausted office workers / tenaciously shuffle along in the sun. Their too-tight / neckties, their miserable march of subjugation.” I can fully sympathize with this! The idea of trodding along, day in and day out, to an office job was never appealing to me either. The freedom of the magpie would also lift my spirit too.
Like “One Girl,” focusing on the love of words, the poem “Reading” by Michael Fulop also pulls along how important words are, how we can fall in love with them. He shares the many authors he has enjoyed, how “I loved to read Aeschylus” and when his hair became thinner and grayer, he wanted to go back to “read Aeschylus again / in a different translation.” Reading is a constant love, one that once developed, never goes away. Fulop reminds those who love to read to go back and revisit their favorites over time.
Benjamin Schmitt talks about the darkness and totality of love in “Track 29,” where the narrator is contemplating love in many ways. He questions, “But even to love one person / is to love many and hate / more along with love itself.” He questions, “does wanting poison loving? / If you want it, can love even exist?” because he knows what he wants is not the same as love. It is a wanting, a yearning, but without it, what do we really have?
In addition to these poems and stories, this issue includes essays that examine love in various forms and archived work that discusses the feelings of attraction. Through the many interpretations of love and lust within the pages of this issue of The Antioch Review, we can see that some of them are good, but many are bad or border on the edge of obsession. Is love obsession? Is lust love? The stories on these pages are invite our interpretation.