One of Glimmer Train’s many claims to fame is its signature black-bordered cover, its distinctive logo title, and the always interesting art—this time, a drawing of curly-tailed pigs making their way home through winter-deadened wheat, erupting in curls from the snow like the animals’ tails. Perhaps the most significant claim to fame, however, is the magazine’s reputation for excellence. Selections from GT have appeared in nearly every annual anthology of “the best.” Its smart look, its dedication to literary fiction, and its consistent attention to the needs of writers reaching for their best, make this always a magazine to watch. This issue is no exception.
Matthew Ducker’s “Middleweight” is a textbook lesson in pacing and structure. Expertly ordered scenes, flashbacks, crises, and rests engage the reader throughout this poignant depiction of a chronically second-place weightlifting competitor. Through the eyes of his wife, he emerges both hero and human, worth cheering for, though maybe not for his physical strength. Ducker establishes the setting and the conflict with these concise lines: “She had left the Zenith turned on in the living room . . .”; ”The radio was a console model with a polished walnut case and a glass dial that looked like a porthole . . .”; “[When] the broadcaster mentioned the Olympics, she caught her breath . . .”; and “It wasn’t the first story or even the second. There was fighting in Norway and a primary election in Pennsylvania . . . Then it was confirmed. The Finns had made an announcement.”
Roger, her husband, is not devastated; he still has hope, he’s still full of nice-guy optimism, as the flashback of their original meeting shows. But that affability may contribute to his mediocrity. In beautifully choreographed scenes detailing sometimes his growing disappointment and sometimes hers, the story reaches a climax paralleling a crucial earlier scene but with significantly different results. Readers’ admiration for the structure of this story is equaled by pleasure in its sympathetic characters and timely themes.
“Everyone is Waiting” by Soma Mei Sheng Frazier tackles another timely theme—how first-worlders respond to oppression—in an edgier way. The narrator, a dentist whose wife has recently died, is moved by written pleas he sees in magazines for donations to overseas causes, but the power of this story comes from his more complex reaction to closer pain. His obsession with numbers—in a waiting line, in statistics, in his own examination room—shows his tendency to detach. But his need to connect after the death of his wife necessitates a new perspective. Frazier’s story, like Ducker’s, is expertly constructed, the number motifs a stark contrast to understated images of grief and multiple levels of pain.
In a similar way—but a very different story—Amina Gautier juxtaposes that eternal need for connection with cultural and family difference in “Aguanile.” Here the narrator is torn between her fiercely loyal family in America and the grandfather in Puerto Rico who abandoned them years ago. He shares his love of jazz music with her in a visit and through phone calls, but his crimes against the family cannot be forgiven. This is not a unique story; the push/pull of divided family feeling is everywhere, heightened by space, time, and opposing priorities. But Gautier makes it a strongly felt, true, individual story through the narrator’s meditative tone as she recounts, with anger and sorrow, both her grandfather’s thoughtless deeds and his wishful efforts to make amends.
Glimmer Train doesn’t carry poetry—another of its signature characteristics—but “Suddenly, the Apocalypse” by Josh Swiller comes close:
. . . the voice in my head that says, “This is wrong” and “This is unsustainable,” sometimes I sit him in the rocking chair by the front window and give him a piece of chocolate pie and say, “Ain’t it something, brother, ain’t it something?” as he goes on shaking his head…But see, when he finishes the pie, he puts it on the floor (note to self: get a coffee table), and he looks around, unsure, but unsure isn’t as tough to work with as upset, so…we go outside and . . . me and the voice that has been so adamant that my life had made some wrong turn or had been subjected to some grievously cruel and unfair fate, we tidy up the yard.
There’s more of this almost-whimsical reverie, but not much. When it’s done, the world is new, and good. What a gift! This issue of Glimmer Train is full of them.