New Ohio Review Issue 15 (Originally published in Spring 2014)

Newohioreview.org is archiving previous editions as they originally appeared. We are pairing the pieces with curated art work, as well as select audio recordings. In collaboration with our past contributors, we are happy to (re)-present this outstanding work.

Issue 15 compiled by Jade Braden.

Fear of the Bird Migration

By Darren Morris

Featured Art: Bird by Peter Takal

I was attempting
the old familiar,
the regular slog,
when I slipped into
missing her again,
the child my wife and I
would never have.
Sometimes she was
a girl and sometimes
a boy. But like heaven,
I held her there
in my mind, a place
of light where nothing
is done, but all is felt.
She was a multitude.
The great uncapturable
plasm of love. Often
she was only
a finch’s thin line across
a rice-paper sky, tearing
through all stations of life.
The way she might
have worn her hair,
or adorned the surprising aspect
of surface-self for appeal.
Or how the supremacy
of personality might emerge,
wriggling out as it does.
Or the first run-in with Read More

Cups

By Cecilia Pinto

Featured Art: Resting by Antonio Mancini

Many years ago I watched a documentary about people with mental illness. One of the patients presented was a young woman who had been institutionalized. Despite being an adult physically, she acted like a little girl and lived in a room filled with dolls. She wanted more than anything to be spanked because she equated this with love. No one would comply with her request which made her desperate and upset.

I have remembered this. Read More

My Keats Year

By James Davis May

Featured Art: Tea Party with Open Pottery by Seymour Rosofsky

Shouldn’t it be I’m disappointed by (or because of) and not in you?

We were watching Stellar’s jays—I didn’t know their names then,
I addressed the first one as “Monsieur Mohawk”—watch us,
or watch our meal rather. I don’t know if birds feel disappointment,
but as they flitted around the perimeter of the patio
with an odd combination of aggression and timidity,
their feet on the sun-bleached railing
making sounds like a hand searching a filled drawer
for something that’s not in the drawer,
the diminishment of cereal must have been processed
as the bird-equivalent of disappointment. Read More

Mystery Object

By Sarah Galvin

Featured Art: The Art of Living by Saul Steinberg

You come out of the room where everyone is doing karaoke
and ask why I’m ignoring you.
I want to say something that suggests I’ve endured
some exotic, indescribable torture

but a completely mundane thing has happened,
which is you have stopped loving me.
So, even though your body is here, you are gone
and bodies are becoming less like a procession of individuals
than a texture like wet cement, but also like words that say,
“Why would you subscribe to such a mystery object”

and I think, it’s funny the cement forms words, especially these words
but something isn’t right about the word “subscribe” in this context
and I can’t tell if the sentence is a question or a statement—
Why is there no punctuation?
I want to run, but I’m already travelling in every direction at once.


The Darkest Part of the Cloud

By Jessica Langan-Pack

Featured Art: Wheatfield by Georges Braque

My daughter is nine, and she has recently grown taller and lost most of her softness. Now she’s a thin and delicate thing with very straight, very smooth hair that she wears in bangs across her forehead. She is afraid of bees. She is afraid of forest fires, and of strangers, and of a book she read called The Face on the Milk Carton, which is about a little girl who sees her own face on a missing children
poster. She is articulate and serious and very imaginative. When she finds out, at the beginning of her summer vacation, that her father is losing his memory, not slowly, or gracefully, but at a possibly alarming rate, what she decides to do is remember everything.

“So that you can tell him?” I ask her. For a few weeks I have been thinking of my head as an empty room of some kind, and sometimes my voice reverberates off its walls. We are sitting in the kitchen eating cereal.

She shrugs. “Just so I don’t forget.” She is at a stage where she has trouble differentiating between other people, real or fictitious, and herself. I wonder if she is afraid of losing her own memory. Read More

The Professional

By Michael Bazzett

She arrived in a dark suit and a mask-like smile, explaining
her services in a manner so polished it almost put us off.
This is my specialty, she soothed. Both mind and house
will be empty as a mountain wind once I’m done. I sensed
she’d said those words before. We sat at the kitchen table,
you and I, looking at one another, hoping the other felt more
certain, more assured. Once we signed, it would take years
before we acknowledged our mistake. She’d left the whole day
open, and could begin immediately. Was there perhaps a guest
room where she could change? Her assistant arrived with
a black duffel, fresh white towels, and a stainless-steel basin. Read More

Fastball Shy

By Mike Schneider

Featured Art: Gray Spots by Vasily Kandinsky

Hot roller to the shortstop,
me—lean machine
of summer, scuffling
in ballfield yellow dirt.
Off like a hound I go
with my three-finger
Warren Spahn, neatsfoot-
oiled cowhide glove
to gobble that scorched
grounder & fire it
across the diamond
to Tub McMullin’s
fat-handed mitt at First.
Little League? Shit.
This is ultimate Big Time.
Who knew that stitched
leather ball could baffle
hand & eye? Wild
chance, wicked hop,
they said, nasty chop
direct to the cartilaged
bulge of my Adam’s Apple
dropped me flat, washed
me in starlight. Nerve
& muscle inscribed
with solid-state physics,
I learned to flinch & never
could unlearn that secret.
One rainy afternoon
on Heckman’s front porch
we unraveled it, yards
& yards of yarn down
to the inscrutable rubber
pill, unforgiving hard
center of the world. Read More

Still Listening

By Robert Cording

Featured Art: Confusion of Christmas by Julia Thecla

I. Hospice Jumble

The Jumble in the paper too hard for him to read,
my mother suggested we make up our own: Dear,

she said to her husband, your first word is life.
Reduced to words we jumbled, he joked file

it. My brother offered another, mean,
thinking perhaps of his diabetes, a name

like cancer to our family. Then, lamp,
lit at his bedside, and the one palm

visible outside his one windowed room.
My father got them quickly, the last, moor,

said with all the sadness of being far from shore . . .
A grandchild solved that one—horse,

she blurted, noticing that he had left
us for a while. By his bed, my mother felt

his hands and face and eyes. Bob, please,
she said, but he was already asleep,

snoring, not dead. My mother sighed, O God.
My brother, in the spirit still, said dog. Read More

My Dead Father Remembers My Birthday

By Lesley Wheeler

Featured Art: Birthday Party by Margaret Burroughs

Dream-phone rang and I thought: that’s exactly
his voice. I haven’t forgotten. Then: but I could
forget, because he’s dead. Hi, sorry it’s been so long,
but I was sick and the doctors messed everything up.

He made that shrug-noise, dismissive but pained,
meaning he’s lying or leaving something out.
It’s snowing here, and then a click, click, over the line,
and a neutral woman’s voice, slightly officious:
This recording was intercepted. If you wish to replay
this message, dial this number now,
and she recited
a blizzard of digits while I flailed
for a pen then found myself tangled in blankets.
The window a bruise beginning to fade. Read More

A Toast in Cancun

By Charles Haverty

Featured Art: Oak Street Beach, Chicago by Terry Evans

Everyone in his new life warned Ferris not to go to Cancun. They said Cancun was to drinking what Las Vegas was to gambling. “They even drink in the swimming pools,” his sponsor Leonard told him. “No shit. They belly up to the bar right there in the water.” He’d been sober for four months, a week, and three days, but Caitlin was his only sister and he her only brother and this was her wedding. So there he stood, sweating on the beach in the wrong suit, the darkest figure in the sand-colored crowd. With the ceremony behind him, only the reception, the night, and a taxi ride to the airport separated Ferris from the plane that would carry him back to Indiana and his quiet, normal life. Read More

Patina

By Mark Cox

Featured Art: Untitled by Vija Clemins

In your prime, shape presents itself first,
the angle and curve of one thing,
the size of something else,
or the way her hair flows volcanically

along each subtle slope and swell.
It is crazed, intense, super-heated,
even the soles of your boots feel sticky,

because she’s entered you, you know this,
she charts the very map of your blood,
and that eyelid twitch you have going,
they’ll claim is stress and dehydration, Read More

A Distant Relative

By Ryan Meany

Featured Art: Coffee and Cigarettes by Ken Schles

Mom called Friday to say Linda died.
At least two people I don’t like at work
I know better than Aunt Linda. I carried her
casket yesterday, because my grandmother asked,
along with younger cousins, strangers I recognize from childhood,
tough men I see only as the children they were
in bony faces, stubble. The babies they were
they’ve locked up deep: Dusty on military disability
with three kids, and Billy, who used to be Little Billy,
with a court date for driving 137. Read More

At the Grave of Sadie Thorpe

By Miles Harvey

Featured Art: A Graveyard and Steel Mill in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania by Walker Evans

Time forks, perpetually, into countless futures. . . . In most of these times, we do not exist;
in some, you exist but I do not; in others, I do and you do not; in others still, we both do.
—Jorge Luis Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”

“Was she a relative of yours?” the old man asks, leading me toward your grave.

“Well, not exactly,” I begin to reply. “She—”but then I pause. In the middle of my sentence, in the middle of my life, in the middle of some small-town cemetery in the middle of the Midwest, I pause, unable to explain who you are or why I’m here. What I would tell the man, if it didn’t sound so absurd, is that although I am not your descendant, although I only recently learned of your existence, although you barely left a mark on the world, and although your corpse was buried here more than forty years before I was born, I can’t get you out of my mind. What I would recount, if I could figure out a simple way to do it, is the history of happenstance that connects me to you across the years, a bond that at this moment feels almost as strong as the ties of blood. What I would confess, if I wasn’t worried he’d laugh in my face, is that I woke up this morning, a couple months shy of my fiftieth birthday, certain I had to drive more than one-hundred miles from Chicago to visit a total stranger’s grave in this tiny hamlet of Dana, Illinois. Read More

Hook and Eye

By Sarah Barber

Featured Art: Untitled (Woman’s Arm and Bra) by Ralph Gibson

Often I have unfastened it myself
without tragedy. But I wanted you
to stand behind me—in fact
a fourteenth-century town
of needle manufacturers crocheted
loops from wire because they wanted
your hands just so terribly
close and a little bit slow
at the closure too aggressively
latched to unhook at the will
of its wearer
, which is what was said
to sell it to nineteenth-century ladies,
not quite promising exactly such
an unhooking of their dresses
and all those garments, and indeed
as early as 1643 a woman in Maryland
traded £10 worth of tobacco for hooks
and eyes only because she wanted
you to stand behind me
as the fastening came undone. Read More

Rome in Us

By Thomas Grout

Featured Art: The Fountain, Villa Torlonia, Frascati, Italy by John Singer Sargent

It’s funny isn’t it—the way Rome still comes at you
fast like a bat breaking past your head from memory.
At the Roman pace the body takes the city better than the mind.
A cathedral ceiling’s fireworks shoot up
once the sermon’s fireworks stop. And when
the ceiling finally stills, the piazza outside overfills
with new fruits and vegetables and etymologies.
Stimulation’s cheap as wine and your horse
is more than happy to take it in by trough.
But it flies by so fast—

only just now it’s slowed enough to hatch a feeling
similar to how it is to listen through the dark over our bed
for a half-caught sound to sound again.
That given one more chance I could make easy sense of it.

It’s often that I sleepwalk down our subdivision’s version
of the Spanish Steps thinking I left something unnamable
inside the Trevi. Is that it at the end of the tube-slide?
I never know. It all gets hazy after the Flaminian gate
though I’m absolutely certain I wake up at the refrigerator.
Rome is in us like unfinished business— Read More

Connect

By Glen Pourciau

Featured Art: Mall of America, Minnesota by Melanie Einzig

We were in a Mexican restaurant at the mall, and my husband, as is his habit, was looking at everything but me. I still had half an enchilada left, but Boyd’s empty plate had already been removed and he’d ground through all the tortilla chips and salsa on the table, leaving his eyes and mind free to survey the room. His attention was drawn to the occupants of a booth across and at a slight angle from ours. He could see them better than I could, but I peeked back and saw a man and woman, presumably married, and a young intellectually disabled boy, the boy seated on the man’s side, which may have appealed to Boyd. The three of them were a picture of happiness, talking and smiling and enjoying one another. If the boy was their son they’d likely been married at least ten years, and I admit I couldn’t help comparing how they seemed to how we were after fifteen years. Read More

Pythagoras

By Bruce Bond

Featured Art: Broken and Restored Multiplication by Suzanne Duchamp

Somewhere beneath the crematorium
of stars, the mystery and the boredom,
the vacuum that every space abhors,
you might stop to listen to no one there
and hear the words of a dead man, a Greek,
who measured nights in increments of music.
The sky then was a calliope of numbers
whose tune was everywhere and therefore far
away as dead men are. No such thing
as solitude among them. It takes a string
of intervals on heaven’s monochord
to pull the sounds from one another, the choir
of which must be silent, surmised, and yet
each ghost note dies into the next to hear it. Read More

Bobcat

By Mikko Harvey

Featured Art: Forest by Werner Drewes

Walking through the woods / at midnight / we were on our way / to the pond / where we
would skinny dip / when two yellow eyes / appeared on the path / we froze / they didn’t
blink or move / the body was / hidden by the dark / there was something / sinister in its
stillness / we turned back / you said it was probably / a bobcat / but better not / to take
that chance / we shared a bed / untouching as usual / you fell / Read More

At the Metropolitan

By Ellen Devlin

Featured Art: New York (Couple on Steps of Metropolitan Museum of Art) by Garry Winogrand

I once saw a Persian sword, in a museum,
glass-boxed, lighted. Warriors on winged
horses charged, lifted scimitars, hundreds of them,
carved in the blue white breath inside the hilt.
I leaned my head on the glass, helpless. Read More

The Museum of Might-Have-Been

By Anne-Marie Fyfe

Featured Art: Art Institute of Chicago by Thomas Struth

Opens its doors one Sunday a month
in winter. The queues back up for decades.

If you’re lucky and your number’s called
you can have any tour: Your Charmed Life,
Your Regrets, The Prodigal You, every second
slip-road at the intersections of the possible.

The exhibits are stark and infinite
under strip neon, long hallways
of lost opportunity, slow clocks,
stopped clocks, rooms where even now
a thought might wither: the attic storeroom
is out-of-bounds to all but the curators,
though artifacts are still donated by the hour. Read More

A Gift From Wales

By Carl Dennis

Featured Art: Shore Line by Howard Giles

Having lingered, on my first trip to Europe, longer
In Paris than I expected, I had to forgo
Walking in Wales. But that didn’t keep me
From becoming deeply indebted to Wales
When I phoned the hotel in Cardiff
To cancel my reservation and save my deposit.
“There’s a letter for you,” the desk clerk said,
In a rich contralto. “Would you like us to send it on?” Read More

Three Houses and a Wish

By Linda Bamber

Featured Art: House by a River by Edward Hopper

1.Chevy Chase

Choked up to see the in-ground cellar door
behind the house
I was born in long ago

then had doubts, cell handy,
called older sister far away.

She said, wrong house!
Original had front yard oaks,
big porch . . .

found right house, had no
response at all. Used up tears on
house that didn’t know me from Adam! Read More

My Grandmother the Mohel

By Barbara Hamby

Featured Art: Study of a Baby by Fredrick Goodall

When I tell my mother that a man I know pickets the local hospital
about what his wife calls “his topic” that is, circumcision
and its evils, she tells me this was my grandmother’s specialty
as a nurse, and I say, “You’re kidding.” “No. The doctor
she worked for couldn’t stand it, so she did all his circumcisions.
She loved it!” Loved it? I think—cutting the tips off
boys’ penises? Loved what? The precision? The power? The cries?
I remember sitting with my mother and grandmother
when I was seven or eight, pretending to play, so I could listen
to them talk in front of my grandparents’ house
in Washington, 328 Maryland Avenue, and down the tree-lined street
you could see the Capitol dome looming. A couple
were walking on the sidewalk, and they waved at my grandmother,
who smiled and waved back. “Are they married?”
my mother asked when they passed. “No,” my grandmother
answered, “they’re just shacked up.” The cups of my ears
gathered around those words like ravenous Venus Fly Traps,
because this was just what I had been waiting for,
though I had no idea what it meant, and I knew I couldn’t ask Read More

All Ages

By Conor Broughan

Featured Art: Canal Street, Chicago by Harold Allen

The Statistics played three shows in four days and Chris McCann—all of sixteen and the founding member, lead singer, guitarist and de facto manager of the band—wasn’t ready for the tour to end. All summer, Chris had only wanted to get out of his Springfield, Virginia house and on the road. Unsolicited, Chris’s father had told him that his mother’s erratic behavior over the past six months hadn’t been his fault. Until his father brought it up the night before the tour, Chris had never considered the possibility. Stray raindrops cried across the windshield when he drove over the Turnpike and into Asbury Park, New Jersey for the final show of the tour. The Bowery Club on Ocean Avenue. Read More

If You See Something

By Billy Collins

Featured Art: Dove in Flight by Pablo Picasso

On my morning walk along a cinder path
that follows the shore of a lake,
I saw a good-size, solitary rabbit,

seven mourning doves who rose to the top of a fence
at my approach,

two anhingas, one drying his extended wings
like a pope on a balcony,
the other not doing anything at all, Read More

Kickboxing with God

By Jeffrey H. MacLachlan

Featured Art: Vendémiaire, plate 34 from Alcools by Louis Marcoussis

On my way home from an empty happy hour, God shoved me so I punched his
chin with a half-formed fist. He laughed and asked me if I knew who snapped
dinosaur tails like breadsticks. God was all effort like old dudes at pick-up
games. Leg-kicks striking thighs and elbows to the windpipe. My uppercut let
out a Hallelujah choir from the sky. He punched my liver and said I should get
some rest for once. You can’t keep this lifestyle forever. He pointed to his chin
and dodged a knockout swing. Why not go visit your kids? God headlocked me
like Mom’s boyfriends did after parole. I’m behind schedule so just fix your life.
He was right but that didn’t stop the stomping he had coming for not showing
up till that night. Read More

The Ideal Budweiser Customer Watches a Budweiser Commercial

By Danny Caine

Featured Art: Drugs by Richard Estes

Oh shit I love “Landslide.”
I was going to get up to piss but then I heard me some Fleetwood Mac.
Hey that’s a pretty farm, too. Farms are dope.
Wait, oh goddamn it it’s a baby horse lying in some fucking sawdust.

That baby horse is so cute I can’t even handle it right now.
I am literally unsure how to proceed.
And now the horse is being fed from a bottle?
The hell am I supposed to do with that?

Dammit now the horse and the dude are playing and stuff.
Fuck me if I don’t love a playful goddamn horse.
Look! A Budweiser truck. Budweiser!

I should like this brand on Facebook.
I should follow this brand on Twitter.
I really should make an effort to engage
with this brand on social media.

Wait, that’s a horse trailer. And our dude
is shaking hands with the driver? Is he—

DUDE YOU CAN’T SELL THAT FUCKING HORSE!

YOU’RE GOING TO MISS HIM SO MUCH!

Somebody get me a Budweiser. Read More

At the Precise Moment of Your Awakening

By Matt Morton

Featured Art: Time Transfixed by René Magritte

It will be raining. You will be watching
TV when your son walks
into the room. He will be crying

and holding the stuffed gazelle you bought.
What’s that noise? he will ask,
sounding scared. On the screen,

an armadillo singing show tunes. To humor him,
you’ll pretend to listen:
Outside, down the street, coming closer,

a sound like a train. It’s just a train
you’ll shrug. Here, look at this armadillo.
A flashing red banner scrolling from right

to left across the screen. Such tiny print.
You will squint. Undoubtedly,
you’ll have left your glasses in the other room

with your credit cards and shoes. Turning
your attention back to the show,
you will gather up your son. Front door

rattling against the jamb. All of the windows
black. But you said there aren’t any trains.
He won’t stop sobbing. You said they—

Hush you will say, annoyed
at missing your show. Where is your wife?
By now, the sound has become a roar. Read More

Telling the Truth

By J. Anna Luz

Featured Art: The Builders by Jacob Lawrence

Observing my boyfriend’s
niece and nephew
kick each other
under the table
at Thanksgiving dinner,
blasting each other
in the shins
and knees,
bone against bone
drawing bruises
and welts,
done in such fury
and with such power
yet no sound,
faces not affected,
not a hint
of a wince
of pain, so little
movement at all,
I thought
that’s how my sister
and her husband
love each other,
and how my father
regards his job
and how my mom feels
about all of us,
and how
I see my body. Read More

À la Carte

By Denise Duhamel

Featured Art: Frozen Foods with String Beans, New York by Irving Penn

We stopped at a restaurant that advertised steak dinners for $3.99. My father
was excited—he loved red meat. We were on vacation. My sister, my mother, my
father and I were all going to splurge. My father double-checked his billfold and
said, “Let’s go!” The waitress asked if we wanted the special. Yes indeed. Would
we like potatoes? Sure, why not? And creamed spinach? And bread? You bet.
When the bill came, my father blanched. He whispered to my mother he didn’t
have enough in his wallet. He called the waitress to our table and reminded her
of the sign outside. She explained that each steak was indeed $3.99, but that all
the sides we ordered were another dollar each. My father said she should have
been more forthcoming. She brought us a menu. My father asked to see the
manager, who pointed to the phrase à la carte. My mother dug in her purse, but
my father told her to stop. He stood up and put sixteen dollars (a ten, a five, and
a one) on the table—not even covering the tax and certainly no tip. “I’m not being
swindled for a baked potato,” he said to the manager Read More

Aftermath in Brine

By Elton Glaser

Featured Art: Parking Lot, from The Plain of Smokes by Kenneth Price

I can’t stand here all day, glands in a wrangle,
Like some brimstone preacher
Beating the bejesus out of his ratty Bible.

Parvenu and undermensch, slave to enabling vices,
I’m lost in a lanky rhetoric,
Simplicities on the fritz.

But you can’t make laws for monkeys, or poems
From some eruption in the nuts,
Every complication its own Vesuvius.

Poems: or as the Chinese warn,
Disasters that come from the mouth.
Sometimes there’s no wild honey at the end of the beeline, Read More

On the Opening of Lauren Groff’s “L. DeBard and Aliette”

By Caitlin Horrocks

Featured Art: Steps in Swimming Pool at Main River, Badeanstalt, Frankfurt by Ilse Bing

I originally read this story in the 2006 Summer Fiction Issue of The Atlantic, a magazine whose student writing contest I had won the previous winter. I was wandering the aisles of a grocery store in a strange city, where my boyfriend had just abandoned me to run an errand to an ex-girlfriend’s house. I perused the magazine rack, scanned the table of contents of The Atlantic. My winning story had been considered for publication, but had not made the cut. The famous authors listed I could forgive for bumping me, on grounds of their fame. But who was this “Lauren Groff”? I’d never heard of her. A newbie, like me. Surely, she was the one who had taken my spot.

Of course, editing doesn’t work like this. I knew that even then. But my jealous, shriveled heart still commanded me to buy the magazine, take it to the seating area of the grocery’s little coffee shop, and sniff out the supposed inferiority of this Groff-person’s fiction. I am not proud of my attitude. Writers hope that readers will approach our work with excitement, with patience, with a willingness to be moved. My state of mind, when I began Groff’s story, was instead darkly, nakedly adversarial. Read More

On the Opening of Edward P. Jones’s “The First Day”

By Marjorie Celona

Featured Art: Street by Romare Bearden

It is, at first, a linguistic seduction:

On an otherwise unremarkable September morning, long before I learned to be ashamed of my mother,

If you’ve ever lived near the ocean, perhaps you, like me, equate one or more dependent clauses at the beginning of a periodic sentence to a wave gaining amplitude before it crashes on the shore. It’s a rudimentary metaphor: the wave builds, and by the time we get to the period at the end of the sentence it has crashed. There is a rhythm to the periodic sentence, and it’s near impossible not to be pulled into it. With its sly promise to deliver something remarkable, that first dependent clause—On an otherwise unremarkable September morning—   is a somewhat seductive lead in its own right. But it is the second dependent clause—long before I learned to be ashamed of my mother—that gives us our first glimpse into the story’s retrospective, mournful heart. If you’re anything like me (lousy metaphors aside), even at this early point the story has you in its grasp. The rest of the sentence, in conjunction with the story’s title, fulfills the tension by providing a simple explanation for what the story will be about:

. . . she takes my hand and we set off down New Jersey Avenue to begin my very first day of school. Read More

On the Opening of Barbara Comyns’ The Vet’s Daughter

By Maud Casey

A man with small eyes and a ginger moustache came and spoke to me when I was thinking of something else.

I have thought about the first line of Barbara Comyns’ novel The Vet’s Daughter since 1993. I was in graduate school and my wonderful professor, the writer Mary Elsie Robertson, suggested I read Comyns. I did and I have been forever grateful for the recommendation. Comyns is that variety of obscure writer who is a secret literary password. To love her is to enter into a speakeasy filled with levitating teenagers, floods, plague, and the occasional monkey. She authored eleven novels between 1947 and 1989 before her death in 1992, with notably captivating titles, such as Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead and Our Spoons Came From Woolworths. When, in the late Fifties, her original publisher—Heinemann—sent her odd fairy tale of a novel, The Vet’s Daughter, to Graham Greene for a blurb, he responded, “Please, send me no more lady novelists.” I’m not sure precisely which part of The Vet’s Daughter Graham objected to, which part he found too lady-ish—its concern with things domestic? Its girl protagonist? In any case, I’m happy to report, he came around because there’s his effusive blurb on the most recent effort to save it from obscurity, the beautiful edition put out by The New York Review of Books with a foreword by Kathryn Davis and a painting by Louise Bourgeois on the cover that, at first, you might mistake for lovely red stockings hanging on a clothesline but, look closer, those aren’t lovely red stockings, that’s bloody sinew and bone. (The painting’s title is Untitled (Legs and Bones).)

Read More

On the Opening of William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow

By Maura Stanton

Featured Art: Summer Breezes by Gustave Baumann

William Maxwell’s great short novel, set in the farm country of central Illinois, where I, too, grew up, pulls us into the story of a murder with such force that we can’t stop reading.

The first chapter is called “A Pistol Shot.” Maxwell begins with the setting: “The gravel pit was about a mile east of town, and so deep that boys under sixteen were forbidden by their parents to swim there.” This sentence tells us that we’re out in isolated country. But it also suggests that this is a novel about “boys under sixteen.”

The next sentence introduces the narrator. “I knew it only by hearsay” he says of the gravel pit. And then we get to know something about his imagination as he tells us why boys like him are forbidden to swim there—“It had no bottom, people said, and because I was very much interested in the idea that if you dug a hole straight down anywhere and kept on digging it would come out in China, I took this to be a literal statement of fact.” Read More

On the Opening of Graham Greene’s “Under the Garden”

By David Lehman

Featured Art: Ventana de Radiografías by Manuel Alvarez Bravo

The first paragraph of “Under the Garden,” Graham Greene’s finest story, consists of just two sentences:

It was only when the doctor said to him, “Of course the fact that you don’t smoke is in your favour,” Wilditch realized what it was he had been trying to convey with such tact. Dr. Cave had lined up along one wall a series of X-ray photographs, the whorls of which reminded the patient of those pictures of the Earth’s surface taken from a great height that he had pored over at one period during the war, trying to detect the tiny grey seed of a launching camp.

With the indirection that passes for a physician’s professional “tact,” the masterly opening sentence reveals that the protagonist, a man named Wilditch, has just been handed a death sentence. Greene’s opening dwells on the doctor’s discomfort with speaking the bald truth (“what it was he had been trying to convey”), his determination to skirt the subject, with the result that the bitter prognostication of the man’s demise dawns on the reader in the same way that it dawns on Wilditch: belatedly, like the answer to a riddle or trick question. Or so it feels: Greene gets us right into the mind of his protagonist at the moment of revelation. Read More

On the Opening of Barbara Comyns’ The Vet’s Daughter

By Maud Casey

Featured Art: Falling by Aaron Siskind

A man with small eyes and a ginger moustache came and spoke to me when I was thinking of something else.

I have thought about the first line of Barbara Comyns’ novel The Vet’s Daughter since 1993. I was in graduate school and my wonderful professor, the writer Mary Elsie Robertson, suggested I read Comyns. I did and I have been forever grateful for the recommendation. Comyns is that variety of obscure writer who is a secret literary password. To love her is to enter into a speakeasy filled with levitating teenagers, floods, plague, and the occasional monkey. She authored eleven novels between 1947 and 1989 before her death in 1992, with notably captivating titles, such as Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead and Our Spoons Came From Woolworths. When, in the late Fifties, her original publisher—Heinemann—sent her odd fairy tale of a novel, The Vet’s  Daughter, to Graham Greene for a blurb, he responded, “Please, send me no more lady novelists.” I’m not sure precisely which part of The Vet’s Daughter Graham objected to, which part he found too lady-ish—its concern with things domestic? Its girl protagonist? In any case, I’m happy to report, he came around because there’s his effusive blurb on the most recent effort to save it from obscurity, the beautiful edition put out by The New York  Review of Books with a foreword by Kathryn Davis and a painting by Louise Bourgeois on the cover that, at first, you might mistake for lovely red stockings hanging on a clothesline but, look closer, those aren’t lovely red stockings, that’s bloody sinew and bone. (The painting’s title is Untitled (Legs and Bones).) Read More

On the Opening of Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People”

By Alyson Hagy

Featured Art: Pasturage by André Dunoyer de Segonzac

Besides the neutral expression that she wore when she was  alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used for all her human dealings. Her forward expression   was steady and driving like the advance of a heavy truck. Her eyes never swerved to left or right but turned as the story turned as if they followed a yellow line down the center of it. . . .

—“Good Country People,” Flannery O’Connor

I’m sorry to say I’ve experienced my share of bible salesmen. And I can’t think of the names Joy or Hulga without wincing with delight. But why have I never gotten over the way O’Connor begins “Good Country People”?

I blame front porches.

Read More

On the Opening of Stanley Elkin’s “A Poetics for Bullies”

By Tom Noyes

Featured Art: Boy with Pitcher By Édouard Manet

I’m Push the bully, and what I hate are new kids and sissies, dumb kids and smart, rich kids, poor kids, kids who wear glasses, talk funny, show off, patrol boys and wise guys and kids who pass pencils and water the plants—and cripples, especially cripples. I love nobody loved.

In Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster writes about the necessity of “bouncing” the reader. At the beginning of a work of fiction, he suggests, the writer must win the reader’s attention in such an immediate, all-encompassing way that the reader has no choice but to forget herself and her “real life” circumstances in order to abide fully and uninterruptedly in the imagined world of the fiction. If the writer can’t bounce the reader from the one world to the other right quick, all is lost.

Stanley Elkin’s “A Poetics for Bullies” bounces me before I hit the first comma. I’m intrigued initially by the narrator’s name, and then by his confession—or is it a boast?—and by the time I reach the end of the first sentence, I feel simultaneously amused and disturbed, and I’ve been thoroughly, satisfactorily unsettled and consumed. While I sense in myself the beginnings of a sort of begrudging, even shameful admiration for the narrator—he’s loquacious and brash, and there’s  a sort of tough, urgent quality in his voice—this inclination  is tempered by a twinge of conscience reminding me of the empathetic kinship I know I should feel with his victims. Read More