One can hardly believe that the astounding works within Allegheny Review’s 28th volume is all from undergraduates. The wording might be a bit self-consciously ornate; which can be put to youthful enthusiasm. However, there is an explosion of images and modifiers, working toward emotional complexity – the effort succeeds; entrancing, engaging and enchanting the reader.
Poetry, short fiction, and artwork come from thirty contributors at institutions of higher education all over the United States; fourteen are Allegheny students. Overall, the quality is even. The poetry and short stories contain subtlety and insight usually uncommon to youth.
One funny, wistful story that makes one truly recall teenage innocence is the 2010 Fiction Award Winner, “And a Pack of Gum,” by Simon Han from Northwestern University. The story’s ingredients: a guy, a girl, mutual attraction, a bedroom in the parent’s house, virginity – and no more should be given away. It is crackling good.
Dave Valentine’s irrationally cool short story is about science, creation isolation, society’s reaction to anything different … and what an imaginative, thoughtful writer can do with a unique idea. It is titled, “Homo inchoatus.” Alvaro E. Duran from Towson University has one very novel idea in “Peanut Butter Pie” as he deals with young love, painfully, realistically, and deliciously. The beginning is promising: “Every so often (if you are like me, Dear Reader), one encounters a person that sucks the very breath out of one’s lungs.” This writer has already learned to break out and address the reader, an alternate between first, second and third person in one story – not easy, even if the ending, while “correct” might have been drawn better.
The issue hosts impressive artwork: a silver gelatin print with two-thirds of a face titled, “Lay Bare,” by Stephanie Irish. Christine Wusylko created a mystic-looking lithographic print of a huge beetle, and Anna Leehey photographed the “Inside of a Piano” and managed to make it fascinating, showing a contrast of lines and shapes, planes, cones, circles, light and shadow.
The poetry, much of it free or blank verse, has sense in it. Chad Redden, of Indiana-Purdue University, wrote, “Your name is Margaret, My Name is Chad.” It is an entire story in verse, with as much between the lines as in the lines, and quite poignant, beginning:
Yes, it is late spring and we are playing Scrabble
Because the doctor said it would help
No, Freeway does not have a silent T.
By the end of the poem the reader knows a good deal more about Margaret and Chad, and is pulling for both of them – and is perhaps a bit more sympathetic over the subject of mental illness.
Stephen Reaugh, in a revealing, bravely honest poem spells out his predicament very precisely, writing the poem, “A Major Fourth – upon hearing the passage of Prop 8”:
It’s the same interval every time. It’s out of place,
A lost child wandering with the fifth-laden refrains
Of our salvation hymns.
One feels his darkness, and hopes there is more than this bleakness. These works draw the reader in. This might be students’ work, but definitely not school-children’s work. It has a very adult ring to it, hinting of promise and a great deal of skill already mastered.