This issue of The Florida Review begins with a Pulse tribute featuring five Orlando authors—queer authors, Latinx authors, authors from the Orlando community. Lisa Roney in her editorial describes “feelings of being both inside and outside of the events of that day [the Pulse shooting].” The published pieces reflect similar contradictions. The fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and graphic narrative draw tension from contradictions and juxtapositions, striking a balance.
In the Pulse tribute, Edgar Gomez’s essay “Dancing in the Dark” juxtaposes humor with the horror and reality that, as a gay Latino who frequented Pulse, he could have been at the club the night of the shooting. By luck, he was not. Gomez uses the theme of luck to lure us into the story, beginning with a broken headlight dangling from his car. He slips into a funny anecdote about his “legacy of driving into things which are not roads” and his luck that though he hit the curb outside of Pulse one night he did not leave with a flat tire. Gomez then lists a series of lucky breaks in his life ending with the heart of his essay: “I have survived being gay.” Gomez explores survivor’s guilt as well as his belief in the strength of the queer community to rally from this tragedy. He balances hope and humor with the realities of hate, erasure, and violence.
Beyond of the Pulse tribute, Maria Kuznetsova questions fact and fiction in her historical story “The Greatest Pogrom on Earth.” Kuznetsova drops us into Ukraine in 1884 where Polya, a young Jewish girl, desires something to happen in their village. The story focuses on storytelling and whose truth we hear. Kuznetsova calls facts into question through letters exchanged between Polya and her beloved brother who has left for medical school. Polya’s letters are factually false and filled with exaggerations, but emotionally true. She knows that her brother “would believe anything [she] said, wouldn’t he?” Kuznetsova’s balances Polya’s humorous naivete with serious anti-Semitism and political radicalism, making this more than a coming of age narrative in a historical setting.
Andrew Furman’s essay “To the Lighthouse” struggles to strike a balance between internal and external stories. His essay parallels his three-year-old daughter’s obsession with lighthouses alongside his historical and literary research on lighthouses. Though immensely researched, the essay meanders with themes of happiness and loneliness that only begin to manifest at the very end, when he learns that “a little bit of what it means to be part of a family is to indulge the special passions of your children [ . . . ] to make these passions your own.” The purpose of his research then becomes clear: he conducted the research because his daughter was too young to do so herself. Sprawling and outwardly-focused, Furman’s essay threads together, but barely.
The poetry picks back up with balanced contradictions in Cameron Barnett’s piece “Non-Binding Legislation, or a Resolution.” Barnett returns us to the insider-outsider theme. He begins, “whereas, I’m proud to be black as a tree is / to be made of wood.” His use of brief legal language should isolate a reader, yet he utilizes it more as a framing device to draw us in. He invites us into his experience as a black man, especially into his confusion with what his blackness means: “I don’t know / what colors to hoist, what banner belongs to me / or how to hold it.” Barnett becomes an outsider within his own poem.
Editor Lisa Roney reminds us that literature and writing bring us “to confront what and who we don’t know, as much as to sometimes affirm what we do know.” This issue of The Florida Review creates balance between contrasts, bringing together humor and sadness, triumph and tragedy, insight and confusion.