Volume 38 Number 3 of the New England Review is a multifaceted issue, covering life in the army (Austrian, WWI and American, Iraq) as well as family, identity, and adventure.
In “Necessary Violence,” Louise Aronson, a doctor, explores the everyday, approved violence inflicted on patients in the name of medicine, and does not spare herself. “Terrified of hurting patients, I awaited guidance and permission,” Aronson writes. “Eventually, in order to survive, I submerged my innate responses and bent my behavior to the dominant norms.” Throughout the piece, as a sort of recurrent Exhibit A, Aronson details a moment early in her career, when she worked in the emergency department of San Francisco General Hospital, which involved a young patient admitted with critical wounds. She describes his treatment as “an assault on a body with the goal of saving that same body.” When the patient cried out in pain or resisted, he was restrained. The doctors were intent on preparing him for surgery. They never counseled him or offered an explanation. When all was finished, nobody discussed his care. This is the violence Aronson wants to call our attention to, particularly the way it’s shrugged off, the end always justifying the means. Instead of settling, she argues, those in the profession should seek out “opportunities to do, and be, better.”
“My Daughter Would” by Benjamin S. Grossberg, which immediately follows Aronson’s piece, is a poem exalting the joys of parenthood. In it, the narrator’s daughter Viola has nicknamed herself after The Kinks’s “Lola,” a song he hates, and she is loved dearly despite her tendency to counterpunch hard in father-daughter spats. Also included are a boyfriend lost to HIV, parents who curse with ease, and a brother whose Facebook page indicates he is married and doing well. Most intriguingly, it’s unclear at first if the daughter exists or is simply a hopeful invention, given the ambiguity of “would,” which is used throughout the first two-thirds of the poem. In the final third, however, Viola transitions to a real-life daughter whose actions are described in present tense.
The issue as a whole is calm and confidently written. However, there are moments where its measured tone is a hindrance rather than a selling point, as is the case with Nancy O’Connor’s twenty-three-page translation of Paul Bourget’s essay “On Stendhal (Henri Beyle)” and Stefany Anne Golberg’s “The Hour of the Wolf,” a discursive, tedious essay about darkness and light. “Rail,” the poem directly following this latter essay, is a necessary shock to the system. “I find it here in the wild alfalfa, head full / of anti-psychotics and blue rain,” it begins. This contribution by Kai Carlson-Wee is a shining, beautifully-constructed beacon, a monument to daring and journey. “Staring out west at the stars / of our Gods and the lonely dark stars of our hearts,” he writes, and:
What hundred low thundering
wheels of darkness are coming to carry us
Another bright spot is Laura Kolbe’s “My Own Private Stromboli,” an essay about the Ingrid Bergman film Stromboli, but also about life, feminism, self-reliance, and giving in. Kolbe blends her own life skillfully into the piece, always with humor, charming and scolding, describing her neighbor’s corgis as having “zero compunction about being basically hirsute thyroids with feet.” Closing, she writes, “To feel oneself alone is to be, at least once, a bit of a silly bitch, and if you’ve never been/felt either, then you’ve got some attention to pay.”
Other pieces of note are: “Trouble and Consolation: Writing the Gay Rural” by Bruce Snider, an essay about self-discovery and the search for relatable narratives; “A Violinist at the Front,” excerpts of Austrian-American Fritz Kreisler’s WWI memoirs; “Havoc,” a story by retired Army officer Eric McMillan about soldiers who adopt, against regulations, a stray dog; “After the Pulse Orlando Shooting, My Wife Asks if We Can Eat at Chick-fil-A” by Caroline M. Mar, whose title speaks for itself. What most impresses about New England Review is the breadth of mediums, which goes well beyond the typical fiction/nonfiction/poetry designations, exploring translation, performance pieces, film writing, and more. The issue is self-assured, occasionally languid, but peppered with bright, ebullient bursts of creative expression that set the mind whirring.