Nimble language and arterial ideas spur this volume of Cutbank, although the thematic diversity and innovative riffs of the journal make any sweeping introduction to the volume impressionistic. The journal veers from the fantastic to the postmodern, crossing the continental (two widely disparate counts of Paris) to the nuclear (stories warbling on familial love and deception.) This issue reflects the editorial organization and voices of many worlds—be it that of a Youngstown Lolita or the fractured narrative of someone seeking the seamless whole after anorexia.
The magazine reads like the cold water candy test. Throughout the prose, the water boils away as the temperature rises. There is a profound sense of process. The quality of the storytelling tests genre. Rewarding, but you have to watch every bead to be sure what the parameters of interpretation are. Take, for example, Jay Kauffman’s essay “Shooting with Helmut,” with cinematic pacing and such a lens as one might expect from a work of fiction. Review it against Ian Golding’s story “Notable Deaths in Major League Baseball,” which weaves together a narrative in a careful and surprising design such that the reader cannot believe it isn’t a web of clippings from the notebook of a rising Cinéma Vérité screenwriter. Because the prose itself is so well-crafted, the stories become alive in other traditions, eking out other messages, other interpretations, other truths.
Daniel Tyx’s nonfiction essay “As the Crow Flies” concludes the journal with a bildungsroman that merges a meditation on place and family. I use the word “bildungsroman” unconventionally because Tyx modernizes the coming-of-age story and makes it more universal. Structured neatly along the lines of a travel narrative (not exactly a travelogue), he studies his son’s passion for birds, the landscape, and familial pressures to relocate, the essence of space. He notes a forgotten birthday toward the end of the essay, and in this oversight betrays his own ascendance to adulthood. Paired elegantly with the Valley and the carrion birds that his son masters fluently, one recognizes a new kind of coming-of-age, one which opens up a vortex of possibilities—the idea that every person will come of age again and again.
Cutbank awarded Ursula Villarreal-Moura first prize for her flash fiction “Rosicrucian Triptych,” which appears in this issue. The language, story, and characters literally electrify the page. I quote from the section “Of Pesadillas, 1987”:
Nights later I intercepted Fatima in her dreams. We lingered in front of my grandparents’ house, the sky musky with secrets. A business envelope rested securely in her hands . . .
She warned me before turning away, “He’s coming to meet me. It’s best you leave, Tatum.”
The back of her head, a maze of black zigzags, pointed to future generations.
It’s lovely enough to stand on its own, a lyricism that is like all nightmares (pesadillas) a rainy message from our waking hours. If you read all three sections together, they are clear as ice, an achievement in precision that any newspaper writer would envy. You can see the economy throughout the issue but what makes the laws from Strunk and White work so well here is the ability to generate ideas and images that are robust and beautiful—without a lot of extra words.