“A good story was always about more than true or false. It was always about more than the story,” contemplates the narrator of Kyle Mellen’s fiction piece “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Couch.” The Spring 2018 issue of The Gettysburg Review offers something more than “the story”: authors and poets share truths, laughs, sometimes along with tears, and always new discoveries. This generously-sized and curiously-executed issue is a great example of editors’ commitment: they “look for writers who can shape language in thoughtful, surprising, and beautiful ways and who have something unique to say, whatever the subject matter or aesthetic approach.”
The Spring 2018 issue opens with a fiction piece by Kyle Mellen titled as an introduction to a stage performance: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Couch.” The unnamed narrator outlines the story that Dan Gray, the protagonist, likes to tell: “A guy walks into a furniture store and buys a couch. It sounded like the beginning of a joke.” With conversational light-handedness, the narrator begins the story shining a spotlight on “this eight-foot orange couch designed by a man named Milo Baughman.” Dan’s wife, Claire, interrupts his story, offering an outline of events: “Man loves couch. Man loses couch. Man finds couch. Man and couch live happily ever after.” While the story appears to be a stage performance until this point, Mellen reveals that there is so much more to it. The author illustrates behind-the-scenes of the couch story that give a glimpse into the couple’s family life that is far from a stage-performed magic trick.
Mimi Dixon’s essay “Things She Can Hold in Her Hands” also deals with objects and their ability to reveal relationships. The author tells the story about her family, particularly, her mother who enjoys shopping. Like her mother, Dixon also experiences occasional impulses to buy:
I have my own problems with acquisition. It’s an American sport, isn’t it?—the mall safari, stalking the wild bargain, doing your patriotic duty, or business as usual, as our president said after the horror of 9/11? I used to go shopping to cure depression or to get over an impasse in my writing. It was not exactly an escape but an exercise of imagination, a way of enlarging my world.
As the essay explores contemporary materialism, the author offers a glimpse into her life and relationship with her own mother which is centered around little things “she can hold in her hands.” Dixon employs the metaphor of a “white elephant,” an “object so precious it was a burden on the giftee. Literally, an object of worship and wonder, but essentially of no worth.” Experiencing conflicting emotions, the author illustrates her attempts to work things out with her mother in this candid essay.
In addition to prose, this issue of The Gettysburg Review offers a wide variety of poetry. Peter Cooley’s “Poem on the First Day of Summer” deals with possibilities of art and new beginnings. Cooley opens the poem with exploration:
To find a form equal to summer light,
which in full bloom exults in everything,
cloud, rock, flower, tree, all it looks upon,
I am up as always before dawn.
The poet moves away from “the madness of the family I came from” toward “a new kind of poem” as he continues with his piece.
Julie Henson’s “Aubade with Girl Saints” raises theological questions with a touch of humor:
Family of girl saints—
some pious, austere. One sister watched the other die,
kept trying to revive her until the dying one shouted,
Jesus is here and he says I gotta go. Ultimate trump card.
The speaker’s tone is inquisitive and almost playful despite the poem’s content. This juxtaposition along with humor makes the poem one of my favorites from the Spring 2018 issue.
In addition to prose and poetry, this issue features Margaret Rizzio’s mixed media collages that stimulate readers’ imaginations and prompt them to seek their own understandings of these works.
Reading The Gettysburg Review for the first time, I was not surprised to find such a wide variety of carefully-crafted, high quality pieces since the editors “are highly selective, publishing only one percent of manuscripts submitted to [them] annually.” From materialism to theology, the works in the Spring 2018 issue of The Gettysburg Review deal with realities of life in masterful ways that any curious reader can appreciate.