Picking up this issue of Beecher’s Magazine is like sneaking into a speakeasy and becoming part of a very cool, very exclusive club. The gray cover of the perfect-bound journal is distinguished by a gold squiggle and a round cut-out that only reveals the issue’s number. It seemed to me that the whole Beecher’s team was on the same gold-edged page; the fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and art chosen by the editors is just as mature and inviting as the journal’s design.
Brian Shawver’s “Defense” is a standout short story told from the first-person perspective. The narrator is the father of Dennis, a teenage boy who has long been bullied by his peers. Dennis is a harmless kid; he likes playing computer games involving “wizards and elves.” As is so often the case in high school, eccentricity is a crime. When Dennis was eleven, the cool kids began a tradition: vandalizing Dennis’s yard each Halloween. Shawver makes a number of interesting choices. The father certainly doesn’t condone the vandals’ actions, but he sees something of himself in them. A well-built former college athlete, he turns vigilante, falling asleep on the porch swing on this Halloween night. One of the vandals begins writing on the lawn in shaving cream. The boy only gets as far as “DENNIS IS” before the narrator interrupts him. The story ends with satisfying action, but even more satisfying self-reflection on the part of a father who loves his son, but can’t solve his son’s problems.
A slight complaint followed by a compliment: I really admired a series of three works of graphic art in the journal, but the table of contents lists only authors’ names, so I’m not sure which contributor is responsible for them. Travis Millard is credited with the issue’s “art,” so I am left to assume that he is responsible for the three fun collaborations with his mother. At the age of six, Millard’s mother wrote adorable little poems. For example:
Tigers eat meat.
They live in
(The backward ‘z’ was a nice touch on the part of the young author.) Millard transformed the poems into comic strips. Appropriately, the art possesses a visceral power that contrasts nicely with the delightfully childish commentary on exotic wildlife.
Mary Miller’s fiction is always a welcome sight. “Levittown” is a sad story about a woman who has flown to the Big Apple to have an affair with a man named David. The encounter is not very fulfilling for either of them. Miller does a good job of communicating the narrator’s confusion; the woman doesn’t particularly know David very well and doesn’t particularly care for him, either. During a trip to a museum, the narrator has some flashes of self-reflection: “The situation I found myself in was choiceless.” The piece’s structure fits the plot and tone very well. Whether with her husband or with her lover, the narrator is unable to find fulfillment or to make substantive progress toward happiness.
I’m still trying to figure out what I think of Dan McCarthy’s poem, “Popover Recipe.” McCarthy’s work does indeed describe how best to prepare the versatile baked good. You must have patience, allowing the “golden basilicas” to dome before you “stab each one” to “let them breathe.” The delightful complication comes in the opening line that precedes the dictate to keep your hands off during baking. McCarthy advises you to have “more restraint than Eurydice.” She was, of course, the doomed beloved of Orpheus. The poem is ambiguous in the best of ways; McCarthy uses the familiar to invite the reader to derive a personal meaning.
Beecher’s Magazine is very early in its run, and it remains to be seen what kind of direction the journal will take. Issue 2 demonstrates an appealing confidence on the part of the editors and features a compelling aesthetic.