Published by the College of Arts and Sciences from the University of North Dakota, the North Dakota Quarterly is a literary and public humanities journal that has existed for over 100 years, providing articles, essays, fiction, and poetry. They bring readers another great issue filled to the brim with a wide variety of enjoyable stories, essays, and poems.
One of the most interesting stories in this issue is “Cinder,” by Derek Updegraff. In this story, we are introduced to “Princess Denise,” a woman who is more than a bit obsessed with Disneyland and princesses. She is preparing for a meeting with a man she has not met in person before. They have planned a very special first date as a princess and Prince Charming in her favorite place on earth—Disneyland. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go as she plans and she is forced to confront her own life and perceptions in a way she didn’t expect, pushing her to make a decision about her own future. It’s a great reminder that we need to face our own obsessions and identify how we will move forward into our futures. Do we embrace the obsession or let it go?
William Stobb provides an incredibly powerful story in “All the Bodies,” which starts with two teenagers who die while breaking into an old man’s house to rob him at a time when he is no longer willing to let himself be robbed anymore. As the narrator jumps back and forth between this story and his own, he is forced to confront the reality that his widowed and aging father should not live alone like the old man who killed the teenagers. Even as he moves his father in with him, he has to find a balance between his own life and caring for his father—not an easy task. This story leads readers to think of plans for the future: how will we deal with our parents and who will deal with us when age finally catches up to us? What a deeply troubling thought!
In the story “In Borrowed Light” by Jeff Fearnside, we meet a young girl who has taken to hitchhiking her way to her destination, although she isn’t quite sure where that destination might be. As a man with similar complexion picks her up and helps her along her route, she thinks about her own father and tries to come to terms with how similar or different she is from her father—and how similar or different this man is from her father. In her mind, she is the strong one and:
it took a kind of discipline to live so apparently free—it took all the strength of her will. Her dad had probably never felt such discipline. He was out there somewhere on the same highways she was, moving from town to town and mouth to mouth, but his was most likely a sloppy journey, a flight littered with fancies that would pull him away from any mapped-out route and onto the misleading freedom of back roads.
She thinks of her father as someone moving without purpose and herself as having purpose, even though she is traveling aimlessly with no specific goal as well. Through this character, Fearnside gets readers to consider how we often follow in our parents’ footsteps, sometimes without even meaning too—sometimes while trying to even lead a different life entirely. Somehow, we find ourselves mimicking in some strange way the lives of our parents.
Another very powerful story comes from Michael Benedict in “Visions.” Here, the main character Howard is much older, but he has started to experience changes in his vision. He consults with a variety of people, but relies heavily on the opinion of his cute, young assistant named Caitlin who thinks it’s a mystical vision of some kind. She says:
I’ve always found that with visions—like when I was experimenting a little with soft drugs in college, for example—I’ve found we have a sense of what they mean. That, you know, it’s important what we think they mean.
Because of Howard’s attraction to this young woman and the trouble he has been experiencing at home, he is inclined to believe her and lean more on her theory than listen to his wife, who tells him to see a doctor.
Over the course of several weeks, he continues to suffer these vision changes and goes through some difficulties in his own mind in reconciling how he feels about his life and the people in it. In the end, he has to suffer a major change in his own life and come to the realization of what he truly wants, both in his self personally and in his relationship with others. It is far too easy to be tempted to think that one thing may mean something else, but we are all forced to deal with these issues in our lives and must find a way to make the right decision.
A literary treasure-trove filled with adventure, this issue of the North Dakota Quarterly is life affirmations, inspiration, and discovery. Throughout all these stories and poems, the writers push us to reconsider our own lives by showing us small glimpses into the lives of others.