Issue 64 of Gargoyle compiles art, nonfiction, poetry and fiction with no overarching theme. Gargoyle lacks an identifiable style, yet boasts memorable content, especially in nonfiction and poetry.
George Choundas’s nonfiction essay “Tampa, Florida, 1184 B.C.” is a reflective character study of himself as a child. With a conversational directness, he recounts moving from New Jersey to Florida and how he found identity through the character Diomedes, from The Iliad. He explains, “I was Diomedes; reliable, steadfast, a one-man army.” Simple yet reflective, this essay is a love letter to reading stories and seeing yourself in what you read.
In the poem “What I Know About Anthrax,” Bill Jones uses a bare bones narrative style to tell the story of his father who worked at Fort Detrick for a biological warfare program. The poem observes his distanced relationship to his father. “My strongest memory [ . . . ] is seeing him on his knees / late at night by the bed / [ . . . ] he didn’t see me watching / as he prayed.” Jones’s biggest success is the seemingly unpoetic aspects of his language that suck the emotion from the story in order to communicate a distance and a lack of expressive words. He ends on the limits of his piece and calls upon the reader: “You make a poem of it / if you can.”
Rita Maria Martinez’s poem “The Madwoman” tests the limits of language, and comes to conclude that language is ours to shape and claim. Her poem goes sequentially through the alphabet, each line starting with a new letter. She then holds that letter for a full alliterative line. Martinez embraces the hyper-visibility of her alphabet form the same way she embraces and reclaims misogynistic insults. “Lesbian. Lactating liability. Lust-ridden lunatic listless from leaching of the labia.” Martinez owns these words, breaking down the “madwoman” stereotype through a structured form.
But while the nonfiction and poetry sing with subtlety, life and character, it is the fiction that disappoints, beginning strong only to fizzle out. “The Shine of Fates” by Miranda Schwartz is a realistic take on Cinderella after her happily-ever-after. Schwartz dives into the trauma of escaping abuse and her Cinderella literally lacks an identity as a mother and a princess. When looking at her baby girl, “Cinderella did not understand the thing [ . . . She] was used to tasks that could be finished. But she could tell this thing would need her always.” Yet while the set up and characterization are stunning, the story is single-toned and grim throughout. Cinderella embarks on a revenge narrative that makes abuse too neat and simple. This story is one of a few fiction pieces that begins with promise but unfortunately does not deliver.
In contrast, “Shift Work” by James Magruder, is one of the stories that holds character and tension throughout. Set in upstate NY in 1980, Cary, a gay foster child, struggles as an adult to find his path in the shadow of his foster brother Dave, the brilliant student about to graduate from Cornell. Magruder’s details of setting shape a believable world around these men. I truly believe that Cary knows the Ithaca of 1980 when he says, “last November, I had an affair with a milkman from Trumansburg [ . . . ] we’d make deliveries along the east side of Cayuga Lake right after dawn, then screw in his truck at the entrance to Taughannock Park.” The use of real places fleshes the world, adding to the believability of Cary’s character and dilemma. Magruder provides a character driven piece bolstered with immersive details.
Instead of a forward or preface, Gargoyle opens the issue quoting Richard Bausch, a writing professor at Chapman University. Bausch says, “Think of all those who have done this work [of writing] before you—they were people, scared, flawed, with imperfect understanding of the thing.” While reading Gargoyle, no matter what stories, essays or poems you latch onto, hold the imperfections close. These stumbles remind us that real people wrote these pieces and that even without an identifiable aesthetic, Gargoyle publishes great works by great authors.