If I had to pick one word to describe Water~Stone Review #18 it would be: Story. Regardless of genre, nearly every piece in this issue has some sense of narrative, of back story, of foreshadowing; there are stories told to us, shown through careful detail, and trolled through symbolic imagery by the many authors in this hefty annual—which is a factor also worth note. The editors of Water~Stone have a unique sensibility in their selections as an annual publication. It’s almost a shame from the review standpoint to have to read the entire publication in a short period of time, because I felt I should slow down and let each piece sink in before moving on and, in some cases, reread and re-reread works that deserve the attention—even with so much new waiting to be read. That speaks to good submissions as well as good editing in selection.
With only five fiction works, there was by far the greatest variety of style among these because no two were alike. “As You Are Now” by Jeff P. Jones—my best guess is that it’s a zombie story, and if someone were to ask what makes genre literature “Literature” with capital L, I would say writing like this. And believe me, I’m not the least bit into zombies or vampires or any of that, but I would recommend this piece based on where it takes the reader. Another piece exhibiting editorial acceptance of style variance was “Duotone Portrait of a Dragonfly” by R.T. Jamison which shifts between first-person POV from that of the female character and third-person POV in which the narrator reveals action from the life of the male character. The story is illustrated with symbols, which Jamison indicates cue the reader to a change in POV, but also “offer a bit of tonbo-infused manuscript illumination,” as well as being influenced by E. Annie Proulx. It’s a bittersweet love story, again, not usually my cup of tea, but precisely why good writing can make all the difference.
More traditional in story style is “Joey” by Kathleene Donahoo. Joey is boy about five years old being fostered by Lynette, whose own daughter tells Joey, “’Only reasons you’re here is the guvmnet gives Momma money for you, so she doesn’t have to stand on her feet all day at Kroger.” While Lynette is watching her soaps or is otherwise occupied with gossiping on the phone, Joey escapes to The Flower Lady’s house across the street where he helps while she gardens her front yard. Older, her own child grown and moved out, she mutters away family and neighborhood secrets to Joey, who remains speechless in her presence, which The Flower Lady seems to trust as meaning he won’t repeat what she says to others. But, he can and does to Lynette. The resulting tensions between these across-the-street-neighbors only adds to the position Joey is placed—always between people, never really with any one person enough to know where he belongs. The victim of adults’ life choices and attitudes, Joey is a character who will never leave your memory once you let him in.
The creative nonfiction selections present a wide variety of styles, again kudos to the editors for their willingness be inclusive. Judith Pulman’s “On the Death of a Difficult Parent” begins bluntly: “In this piece, I will compare the death of my father, William Cameron Pulman Jr., also known as Bill, with the death of my guinea pig, Harry, who was alternately known as Prince Harry, Harry B., Ice-Cold -Rapper-Harry, and the Queen.” Pulman believes clarity in understanding her father’s death might come from this “new narrative lens.” It’s certainly not as LOL as it may sound at the start, but surprisingly much more thoughtful and to the mark in expressing why we might not be so utterly sad to see some people leave our lives, and yet, distraught over the animals we lose. I’d say she hits sharp focus with this new lens, one many would benefit from looking through.
Katrin Gibb’s “The Quickening” was another standout for me, with her recollection of the day her father announced that she and her brother would begin taking responsibility for household chores:
My brother and I looked at each other, and it was clear we were thinking the same thing. What the hell had just happened? Two minutes ago we were outside, running through sprinklers, squirting the dog with a water gun, rolling around on the wet grass, and now childhood was over? Every day for the rest of our lives there’d be chores to be done, tasks to be completed, our precious time taken from us.
Their father works out a payment system, which accumulates over time. Gibb’s look back on this is one that reveals how little she understood as a child about the tight financial situation of her family, and how ungrateful she must have seemed to her parents (and so many of us to our own). Yet, part of childhood is to remain unburdened by some of those adult responsibilities, and, as she reveals, to be introduced to them in ways we may not fully understand until much later in our lives. And, if we are lucky, to be able to show to our parents that all was not lost on us.
So much poetry in this issue—over 30 works, only a few by the same authors—again, expressing expansive variety. The theme for this issue was “All We Cannot Alter,” and the poetry speaks strongly to this. “The Reminder” by Jason Tandon begins, “My friend long dead visits me in a dream,” and the narrator assures the dead friend: “’I grieved for you,’ I say. ‘I climbed a rooftop / in a slanting rain and spit my curses at God.’” Susan Marie Swanson’s two poems take readers back to childhood, blending fairy tale with memory, as “Pillowcases” begins: “Once upon a time, / I was a child who read stories / translated from languages / my great-grandparents spoke. . .” And Carolyn Williams-Noren’s poem “In a New Town for an Old Friend’s Funeral” examines how a parent tries to gently introduce the concept of death to children:
I’ve taught my children every living thing
can change into dirt: the bird
we found beak down in the wading pool one August
becomes clover, exhalation
of clover, breath of mouse,
meal of the owl.
While these, and so many of the others, speak to that which cannot be altered, which might seem quite gloomy, there is not a sense of dwelling in the past in any of what I read. Conversely, each piece seemed to take to reader to a grounded sense of here and now and to an open place of possibility. As Kris Bigalk’s poem “Enough” concludes, “. . . For now, close your eyes, let the cold wind / wash over your bare head, and just hold my hand. / It will be enough.”; “Translation Problems” by Todd Davis ends, “What’s the word, I wonder, for the last poem anyone will every write?”; and “The Bowl” by Marsh Muirhead closes on, “. . . something / for which the bowl / was just the right size.”
Water~Stone Review’s submission page says, “We welcome and encourage diversity in voice and form.” Having read this issue, I can say that’s an understatement. Water~Stone Review IS diversity in voice and form. For writers seeking a home for that work that may not fit traditional guidelines, and for readers seeking that which is new and innovative in writing, Water~Stone Review both grounds and expands the literary experience.