It’s been two months since Deepwater Horizon exploded and caught fire, about 42 miles Southeast of Venice, Louisiana. It has been difficult to think of anything else. None of the stories in this fiction folio are about oil or environmental issues. Yet all of them offer a departure from the incessant pounding of the southern United States shores and the relentless, and sometimes infuriating, media coverage of it.
When I say departure, I am not implying these stories offer mindless escape. The stories of Drunken Boat’s twelfth issue have something at stake and embrace both the weight and lightness of living in this world.Last year I watched the Croatian film Svjedoci (Witnesses), which was based on Jurica Pavičić’s, novel Ovce od gipsa, Alabaster Sheep and set during and after the war. “Second Story, Heaven” possesses a culturally rich sense of place. Jurica writes with subtle nuances of character, and you feel this family’s upheaval through a protagonist’s strong point of view. “Nebraska 2008,” by Emily Eiselein, is a story written around the safe haven laws in expansive prose with a sharp awareness of the body. John Given’s protagonist, in “The Silver Jaguar,” remembers a wedding that holds for him a fraught personal history with two sisters, one of which he married and both of which have led to his reflections on gender constructions, violence and loss. Cheryl Moskowitz, “Letter to the Man at Journal Square Station” uses an epistolary to span the distance between a woman at a train station and the stranger who is shot in front of her and her daughter. At one point in Dennis Must’s “Chet Baker Crosses the Allegheny,” the main character answers his father’s question of what he’s doing traversing a bridge by car with: “Seeing how close I can get to the edge? Have you seen the green lights in jelly jars? Ever tried to skin them without their exploding into a thousand pieces of light?” The rich description of those green lights in jelly jars is as haunting as the story overall. Karin Rathert, with a keen attentiveness to language, digs into the difficult questions of anonymity, privacy and interpersonal relationships in an era of social networking no less filled with isolation or loneliness in its barrage of communication. Chris Tarry’s “The Day Gary Needleman Jumped” is a story of a man as insane with loss as he seems unaware of his own emotions. The story is a compelling read, in particular for its ability to be amusing and tragic within the same frame.
If you’re in the mood for the strange, the highly imaginative, the conceptual and the dreamlike, then there are several stories to peruse. Ashley Butler’s “Problem with And” is a highly demanding piece and engaging syntactically and conceptually. There is a multiplicity in prose that urges its readers to reflect on non-black-and-white ways of seeing and on moving beyond surfaces. In “twists and turns, both beautiful and hideous,” Robert Bothwell’s “Bottom Feeder” builds extraordinary tension through a lushness of language, which coexists with fairly revolting human behavior in an apocalyptic world of scarcity and deprived resources. Karen Gotshall’s “Care and Feeding” narrator births a baby octopus and provides imaginative, tender ways of looking at motherhood, different kinds of love and dependency. Brigit Kelly Young’s “Me and Brigitte (Bardot)” is a marvelous dreamscape where the authority of author—and women’s gender roles—are whimsically subverted. Christiana Langenberg creates an innovative way to elucidate and challenge unhealthy relationships between men and women that I will let you uncover for yourself in “Nothing Personal: Intro to Fiction: 201 by A. Larsen.” Garrett Socol’s “Manicurist” is hit by lightening and blessed with special powers. Lauren Markham’s “Caverns Where You Have Crossed Me” guides us through memory, love and loss in a cave. The narrator reflects: “Our guide assured us the formation was natural—but how about the way a pile of rocks can mirror, can mock, our human world?”
Italo Calvino, in “Lightness” from Six Memos for the Next Millennium,1 writes:
Whenever humanity seems condemned to heaviness, I think I should fly
like Perseus into a different space. I don’t mean escaping into dreams or
into the irrational. I mean that I have to change my approach, look at the
world from a different perspective, with a different logic and with fresh
methods of cognition and verification. The images of lightness that I seek
should not fade away like dreams dissolved by the realities of present and
This paradoxical relationship between heaviness and lightness seems particularly meaningful at this precise moment in the United States and in the world. I renew connection with the world through these writers. The writers’ approaches, perspectives and fresh methods present a variety of voices through which we, as readers, can meditate on the lightness and heaviness of living, present everyday around us.
Deborah Marie Poe, fiction editor
20 June, 2010
1 Calvino, Italo. Six Memos for the Next Millenium: The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures 1985-86. New York: Vintage International, 1988. Print.