Glimmer Train is one of those lit mags, making frequent appearances on “best of” lists and respected by readers and critics alike. Its stories have been selected numerous times for the Pushcart Prize and The Best American Series, as well as the O. Henry Prize. This issue continues providing evidence for these honors.
Issue 101 begins with Peter Parsons’s “No One There, No One to Talk To, Nothing to Say,” a story about family and loss that begins with the death of Katsy, the protagonist’s mother, but which truly centers around the death of Uncle Chick, his father, five years later. While Uncle Chick’s sons are summoned back to Manila from various parts of the globe, his ruined body is pummeled for hours by doctors attempting to revive him before his corpse is finally transferred to Siojo’s Funtime Funeraria, Complete Funeral Services, a funeral home located next to a blood sausage shop. Set in the path of prostitutes and gamblers, Siojo’s offers rum-and-Pepsis and disco coffins, but apparently has no knack for embalming—they only manage to do Uncle Chick’s head, and badly at that. Cycling through humor, wild detail, and poignant scenes of familial loss, Parsons creates a story of life that is as farcical and serious as the real thing.
Another standout is Nikole Beckwith’s “The Beginning,” a story about a small town hit so badly by a storm that the only survivors are attendees of the combined junior and senior prom. Though the piece requires a certain suspension of disbelief, the story of teenagers building a new world for themselves is captivating. Using deflated balloons as bowstrings, the students hunt, scavenge, grow, and construct an open society bound by love and mutual understanding. The world Beckwith has created exists in charming contrast to literary forebears like Lord of the Flies. She writes:
It was customary for everyone to sleep outside that night. They would count off in song and at the end all raise their hands in silent solidarity, a pageant. Later this would be known as Founders Day. The little children wouldn’t understand until much later that it was their parents who had done the founding.
David Naimon’s interview with Valeria Luiselli is an equally compelling bit of reading. Naimon’s questions are focused primarily on The Story of My Teeth, a novel about Gustavo Sanchez Sanchez, a juice factory guard who becomes an auctioneer in hopes of earning enough money to fix his bad teeth. Luiselli wrote the story with the assistance of a group of Jumex factory workers, who workshopped her writing weekly. In the interview, Luiselli also talks about the freedom of inhabiting different bodies, her writing process, and the state of Latin American literature, which she believes is flourishing as writers depart from the former model of Spain-centric publishing. The conversation between Naimon and Luiselli is insightful and funny, a gift to writers and readers alike.
If there’s one obvious bone to pick with Glimmer Train, though, it’s that the immediately recognizable cover could use an update; currently, it would feel right at home in the fanny pack of a man with a beeper on his belt and a polo shirt tucked deeply into his high-waisted khakis. To put it another way, little has changed design-wise since Glimmer Train debuted in 1992.
But the remainder of the content of this issue is, across the board, as steady as one might expect. It features several absentee dads, a Rhodesian cosmonaut, a pregnant hippo, a well-meaning mother-in-law, a psychic friend, and kindly co-workers. Each piece is buttoned-up, precise, relatable in some way, and although there’s hardly anything to fault, and certainly plenty to enjoy, a piece of me wants to be startled, to watch in awe as a hotrod comes crashing through the mall directory, drag racing past the Gaps and the Banana Republics and everything else that feels well-appointed and safe, toward some uncertain, unforgettable end. So hey, Glimmer Train, you’re great, but here’s to loosening up a little. May we all go out in disco coffins, surrounded by those who love us—those we’ve given more reasons to laugh than to cry. And until that time, may we have plenty of people to talk to, and plenty to say.