The MacGuffin is the perfect literary companion. Published three times per year out of Michigan’s Schoolcraft College, The MacGuffin doesn’t overload its issues, and its solid selection of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction carefully placed to compliment the flow of subject or imagery speaks to the editorial care behind this quality production.
The fiction is strongly character-driven. Some works read like news exposes, such as "Chalatenango" by J. Paul Ross, a gut-wrenching depiction of the 1980s civil war in El Salvador. The scenes of military violence are disturbing in their graphic depictions and delivered from the eye witness of "the boy" in present tense so as not to allow the reader to place such actions in the past. Indeed, daily news headlines speak of similar atrocities in Syria and Myanmar, among others. We should not look away; the discomfort in reading Ross's work speaks to his skill in providing us witness, a role essential in intervention.
Other works provided character experiences that came to the necessary, though not always desired closure. I couldn’t let go of Lottie, the young girl in “Phantom Limb” who lost her young friend. As author Lesley C. Weston lays out in the first line: “Lottie knew Hess was dead, and she knew what death meant.” But in her young mind, “[. . . ] she still expected, somehow, to see him again.” Her hopefulness combined with her childishness is sadly endearing:
She spent days going to all their old spots, and she made deals; if she held her breath under water for two minutes, if she got her stone to skip eight times, if she caught fifty fireflies between supper and bedtime, if she said ten Hail Marys while doing four perfect cartwheels, then she’d see Hess.
Those were the bargains she tried to make, the spells she tried to cast.
It was sickening, wishing so hard.
“We Don’t Care for That ‘Round Here” by Michael Baker features another young female character, Anna, whose family is entrenched in a religious rural community where reading is censored. A Bible makes its way into the hands of young Dale, who turns it over to his father. They take it to the Pastor, who preaches to the two men:
“There’s evil on this Earth and don’t you forget it. Don’t allow it in your home or in your town, and if you do then God damn you. And if I permit you to then God damn me as well. I will not. Because I swear to you I know the Truth, and I won’t have some outsider telling our children the Truth’s in some book for anyone who’s been shown to figure some symbols on a page to make their own understanding of it.”
Dale’s little sister Anna is woven in throughout the story, and her relationship with Aunt Lucy, who is no longer welcome for having read to the children and “spreading Godless ideas” that Ray Sr. considers “dangerous.” Then the phone is removed, and the mailbox is taken down. Little Anna stows away outside, behind an oak tree. From under her doll’s dress, she removes pages torn from a book and a letter from her aunt (which Anna retrieved from the trash). She tries learning the words she remembered:
Anna hoped one day she would read the pages from the book without having to recite them from memory. She resolved that once she could do that she would study Aunt Lucy’s letter to see if any of the same words could be found there as well.
There is just something so heartbreaking about little Anna’s resolve, hopeful and hopeless at the same time.
Mickey J. Corrigan’s “Murphy’s Second Law” characters are hilariously raw and uncomfortably real, and her ability to delve into the underbelly psychology through her main character’s observations held me rapt. Her style is reminiscent of Carl Hiaasen with passages like this:
People in bars always lie. They sit close to one another in the mirror, drinking and laughing, trying not to look at themselves not telling the truth. Wherever they do look, they only see liars like themselves who can’t tell the truth from a Harvey Wallbanger. This is a scientifically proven fact. Ask anyone here in South Florida, where the world’s most successful liars hide out in tropical splendor, scamming one another.
This issue features winners of the 22nd National Poet Hunt judged by Naomi Shihab Nye and presented with her commentary. Of the dozen regular contributors, Virginia Boudreau’s work was the top resonator with me, mainly because her subject matter is so real to us here in the Midwest. Her two poems both confront winter overstaying its welcome (it’s April and still winter!). “March On” opens:
Early March: ugly as a remnant
of dingy plastic impaled
on a charred branch flapping
lethargic on a cold wind
The poem’s speaker goes on to beg for spring: “I want a glimpse of yellow finch,” “I want confetti veils of dogwood,” “I want peepers and pussy willows,” and ends, “I want spring.” Agreed.
Barbara Westwood Diehl’s works delighted with unique linguistic play in “An Orthography,” which opens, “Think of friends as foreign languages. / You may have an alphabet in common / but sometimes step on their vowels / without meaning to,” then continues the metaphor, while “The Asylum Seekers Make Earrings” is a finely detailed observational poem. Other poetic works speak to nature more directly, Sophia Rivkin’s “Hummingbird” and Richard T. Rauch’s “Sacred Crows,” while still others, like “Curiouser and Curiouser” by Barbara Westwood Diehl and “Introspection” by Milton J. Bates take readers through familiar journeys to end someplace new.
The same can be said for The MacGuffin, presenting us with authors able to “figure some symbols on the page” that can provide readers with a tremendous experience of journey. At the very least, some respite from this never-ending winter.