I’m not sure what CutBank means but I now know it’s synonymous with great fiction and poetry. A university-based journal, it manages to attract emerging and established writers with serious credentials. Some of its contributors have had work in Tin House and McSweeney’s, two of the best if not the most recognizable literary journals.
I was looking forward to reading the story “Near Lake Eerie” by Baird Harper, who was recently featured in Tin House’s New Voices section (quite the achievement for an up-and-coming writer). The story delves into the wide-eyed perspective of a young boy who’s way into Sci-Fi and believes a bar code has been tattooed on his head. In Shawn Vestal’s “The Merchandise,” a widowed and aging clothing store owner is confronted with the prospect of losing his livelihood – and the only reminder of his wife – his store. It ends with a series of “waking up” moments where the reader is left guessing whether what has transpired is figment or reality.
Beautifully written was Kate Lane’s “Spectacle of the Missing,” which won the 2008 Montana Prize in Fiction. In it, a boy becomes fascinated with a girl who has no tongue. He watches her from afar as she sits by a lake. Its ending is both terrifying and gripping. The best story was Teresa Milbrodt’s “Seventeen Episodes in the Life of a Giant,” which manages to be both, as the best fiction does, laugh-out-loud funny and incredibly sad. The giant in question is an eight-and-a-half-foot tall woman and the story chronicles her attempts – many of them failed – to connect with those around her. The story is an astute study in alienation and loneliness, right down to the frozen pizzas she takes home at night to eat. The fiction was extremely well crafted and well written.