Themed “Beginnings & Endings,” this is a slim but tightly packed journal. Though fiction takes precedence, the overarching editorial preference is for strong character development, regardless of genre. This also lends itself to exploring relationships, but thankfully, the theme does not draw upon clichéd beginnings and endings. Instead, editors have selected works that blur these boundaries, reach for them but fall uncomfortably short, and force the reader to accept that there are rarely clean starts and finishes in life.
Of the fiction, once I turned the final page, my memory immediately returned to the opening short, Dave Rudden’s “Pandora.” This succinct work chronicles the “punishment” of Pandora for having opened the box—where she is now entombed. Since hers is an immortal life, any longing for beginnings and endings is lost, leaving the reader as much in limbo as her predicament.
The next I was most drawn into were the two final stories: “A Writer’s Masterpiece” by Alexander N. Tan Jr., set in his native city of Manila, and “excerpt from Sandino’s Bones,” which takes place amid the sugar fields of Nicaragua where author Matthew Hutchinson has lived and worked. Tan’s piece jump cuts from Ernesto’s impoverished youth from which he seeks escape to his post-war return home where he finds the effects of war have taken a chilling turn on the mental health of his extended family. Manila’s piece is another which explores the psychology of impoverished living and the abuses of a nation on its people. Both narratives cross between realism and surreal, in the same way the minds of their characters must also have to cross lines simply to survive their daily lives.
The Quotable provides space for both the long and the short when it comes to stories. On the long side, “Can’t See the Fence for the Weeds” by Tarah Gibbs is given a dozen pages to develop the strained and uncomfortable relationship between the cool kid character, Jimmy, and his nemesis, the mental impaired adult. Though I thought I knew where this story was going, I was pleasantly let down by the awkward ending Jimmy has to experience—providing no resolution, no clean ending. And why should there be?
To the shorter end of the spectrum, “The Foreign Film” by Lennart Lundh is one of those enjoyable rare glimpses I have sometimes seen in my adolescent male students’ writing, when the character/author shows the emotional capacity so often obscured by social expectations of masculinity. Out on a first date, the male character relishes in small touches—“That simple touch electrified my body and drove the cold out of my bones.”—and gentle sensuality—“I forgot about the world beyond her lips and the press of her body to mine.” It’s just so damn sweet and real, that in a page and a half, I wanted this guy to get the girl because she’d be so lucky to have him. Alas.
And then, immediately following (nice editorial choice), is Tammie Elliott’s subtle yet heart wrenching “The Last Knife,” in which the wife character seeks drastic release from her married life, from her husband who “climb[s] on top of her Saturday nights, his beer breath and sweaty skin making it difficult for her to breathe.” And so she vows, as she washes the dishes: “If it’s here, if the knife is still in the water, today will be the day.” Alas.
The overall sense of this issue was dark, pensive. Even Eirik Gumeny’s “Twenty Minutes,” a playfully curious story, built upon the premise of the first line: “Every twenty minutes I die.” It would be funnier if it wasn’t also so frightening to consider, which, of course, combines for pure delight in such lives as:
This other time, I was born directly in the path of a bus. One second of fear, one second of panic, then nineteen minutes and fifty-eight seconds laying in a crosswalk in excruciating agony.
I was born in a tiger cage once, too. Ended pretty much the same way. Except for the crosswalk part.
Of the poetry, I wish I could say more. The offerings were few in number, but great in impact. Kirby Wright’s “The Widow from Lake Bled, Slovenia,” imparts clear imagery and emotion that spans the time associated with war and loss, ending with “She remembers midnights with him / In a world erasing shadows.” Kevin J.B. O’Connor’s “Kitchen Flight,” which is dedicated “after Melville,” will clearly be a hit with Melville fans who will appreciate references to Starbuck, the Pequod, Queequeg, and of course, Ishmael, as they find themselves unwittingly rapt in the “deranged plan” of Captain Ahab. Lastly, Janet Butler’s “The End of the Affair” finishes out the poetry offerings with a sober consideration of exactly what the title indicates.