New Ohio Review Issue 6 (Originally printed Fall 2009)

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 6 compiled by Ellery Pollard.

Fame

By David Gullette

Featured Art: Reading by James McNeill Whistler

Half asleep he saw clearly his own failures
and by the light of that hideous clarity
made a poem hard sleek and simple.

As he strung the words out from the bobbin
of his waking mind still half dreaming
he knew what he had seen, saw what he had felt

and each word rang a new bell
or bruised an old wound to bleeding
but he pushed on to finish it all the same.

Read More

Objective Correlative

By Ann Keniston

Featured Art: The Letter by Alice Pike Barney

All I could do was think of her face.
Or not think of it, the way
after receiving her letter I felt
relief, gratitude, and then
lost the actual note she wrote,
the tiny, lovely photograph
of her children I’d vowed to cherish.
And then I saw: my grief was
the objective correlative, a hook
on which I could hang all the scraps
of whatever other sadnesses
I was more frightened of. And the grief,
like a person, like her in her solicitude,
almost prevented me from seeing this

Read More

Quite a Storm

By Brenda Miller

Featured Art: Alpine Scene in Thunderstorm by Frederic Edwin Church

You can see storms in the desert from a long way off: dark clouds building, wind picking up, lightning bolts flashing and touching ground. You listen for the thunder growling up behind, wait for the moment when everything will be synchronized—and then you’re in it, in the thick of it, trees bending and shaking, something rattling the roof, the lightning and thunder now one animal trying to get in. The only thing between you and the storm is the sliding glass door, and you see the jackrabbits going for cover, and you know the power will go out, and you know you’ll have to find the flashlight and batteries and candles and matches, and you’ll try to eat all the food in the fridge before it spoils, before your boyfriend gets home and blames you for the storm. You’ll still have to get up at 4 a.m. and drive your truck into town, dash from the cab in the rain and wind, knock at the locked glass door frantically for the baker to let you in, the baker who had looked you up and down, said: why does a college girl like you want a job like this? You had no answer for that question, but you still got the job because you were white and sober and scared, and so now you run inside, put on the big white apron, start pressing fresh donuts into frosting, sprinkling them with chocolate jimmies and coconut, scooping out the powdered sugar and glaze.

Read More

Takeout, 2008

By Denise Duhamel

Featured Art: Puddles by Sophie Rodionov

My sister, my brother-in-law, and I order Chinese takeout
on New Year’s Eve and my fortune reads
“You have to accept loss to win.” This makes me almost hopeful—
and maybe, for a moment, even gives me a way
to make sense out of 2008. I am going to keep that fortune, I think,
but then promptly, accidentally, I throw it in the trash.
Later my sister says that she thought my fortune might have read,
“Only through learning to lose can you really win.”
Or “Maybe accepting loss makes you a winner.” I can’t search
through the trash because I threw the bag of leftover Chinese
into the condo’s chute which crushes whatever thuds to the bottom.
Read More

Grimace

By Heather June Gibbons

Featured Art: The Ouroboros by Theodoros Pelecanos

Regret does not descend in a cinematic miasma.
It hits like nausea, creaks back and forth
on a limited axis like one of those vaguely
eggplant-shaped metal cages you used to see
in fast food playgrounds across America.
Meanwhile, the sky unfurls its violent ribbons
and karate kids spar on the green. I am driving
or rinsing a dish, or picking zucchini, or whatever it is
I do now that I’ve outlived my misspent youth,
confused by the hair-trigger pairing of regret
and nostalgia, the head and tail of a snake stuck
swallowing itself in the relentless ouroboros
of endings that beget other endings, memory
like a waterwheel that we’re tied to, half-drowned
and just trying to make it around one more time.
Grimace, I embrace you from the inside.
The place is empty, let me stay awhile.

Read More

The Briefcase

By Mark Cox

Featured Art: Leaves by Sophie Rodionov

They bought it early in their courtship, at one of the
estate or moving sales they avidly frequented, piecing
together a life from the treasures and trash of other
couples—young then, oblivious, able to profit from
others’ losses, to foresee utility and beauty in the
discarded and worn. “Contents a mystery,” the
tag said, “Combination unknown.” Even so, it was
a bargain—a sleek, hard-shelled executive model, its four
Read More

All That Shimmers and Settles Along the Roads of our Passage

By Mark Cox

Featured Art: Portrait of a Lady with a Dog (Anna Baker Weir) by J. Alden Weir

After seventeen years, I return home to my ex-wife,
without the cigarettes and bread,
without the woman and children I left her for,
older, empty-handed, and yet
to the same clothes
still in the same drawers,
as if nothing has changed.

Read More

A Permanent Home

By Nicole Walker

Featured Art: Houses at Murnau by Vasily Kandinsky

We had been in Michigan only five months when we heard the people we sold our house to back in Salt Lake City had decided not just to remodel but to start completely over. They were tearing it down.

Erik had painted every wall of that house. He painted the moldings with enamel paint—hard enough to last forever. That’s the house Zoe was born in. It’s the house where Erik first brought me oysters and the house where I first made him salmon. It’s the house we brought Zoe home to—where I first nursed her and where I first fed her puréed sweet potatoes. That house was where I learned to make cassoulet and where I made my mom her favorite vichyssoise. 

Read More

A Discreet Charm

By Stephen Dunn

Featured Art: Luncheon Still Life by John F. Francis

Our good friends are with us, Jack and Jen, 
old lefties with whom we now and then share
what we don’t call our wealth. We clink our
wine glasses, and I say, Let’s drink to privilege . . .

the privilege of evenings like this.
All our words have a radical past, and Jack
is famous for wanting the cog to fit the wheel,
and for the wheel to go straight

down some good-cause road. But he says
No, let’s drink to an evening as solemn
as Eugene Debs demanding fair wages—
his smile the bent arrow only the best men

can point at themselves. I serve the salad
Barbara has made with pine nuts, fennel,
and fine, stinky cheese. It’s too beautiful to eat,
Jen says, but means it only as a compliment.

Read More

Superman at 95

By Gregory Djanikian

Featured Art: The Collector of Prints by Edgar Degas

It was never a question of age, finally.
Time for him had always moved
too slowly, wasn’t he faster than time,
outrunning it whenever he wished?
Even now, he could hear the sound
of every second before it clicked.

Oh, he was powerful enough,
still wildly aerodynamic, able
to leap imagination itself.

Read More

Life As Lucy

By Lisa Bellamy

Featured Art: Jonge vrouw met een sigaret by Antonio Zona

The famous poet misheard my name after her reading:
“Lucy?” she asked as I introduced myself.
My ears perked up like an anxious dog off the leash
hearing the Beloved Friend call her name, suddenly alert
in the midst of the city’s distraction and babble:
fragrant pigeons just out of reach, sirens,
couples growling face to face in the street.
There’s nothing soft or vague about “Lucy.”
Lucy’s a dachshund digging under the rosebush
someone’s grandmother planted,
salivating for scraps of tasty mole,
ignoring cries and folded newspaper swatting behind her.
Lucy’s a bookie, porkpie hat on her head,
cigar clamped in her mouth.
She’s running on spit, playing the odds
for more time to make good on her bets.
Lucy is—bucky. Read More

Don’ Like

By Charles Harper Webb

Featured Art: The Miser by James McNeill Whistler

The Arabs who invented Algebra can’t have known
Miss Seitz would teach it, any more than Einstein
knew he’d be the Father of Catastrophe.

The Miss which prefaced her name proudly
(would no man have her, or would she have no man?)
brought to mind Mistake, Mischance, Misshapen,

Miserable, Misfit, Missing Link, Lord of Misrule.
Only the fiends who stoked the furnace of 8th grade
were glad to see her hunched at her desk, gutting papers Read More

Dismantled for Goodwill, Our Son’s Crib Leans

By Charles Harper Webb

Featured Art: Trailing Vine by Cooper Hewitt

against our bed. The ship-of-slats that ferried him
through his first years, traps us, tonight,
in its floating cage as my wife and I slip down

sleep’s muddy stream. That crib spent hard time
in the Don’t Wear closet with outmoded pants, shirts, shoes,
while we argued the merits of another child.

When my wife passed her fertile crescent,
and entered the dry scrub-lands, we kept the crib
for sentimental reasons, like a teddy bear in a flash flood.

Read More

Here

By C. Wade Bentley

Featured Art: Variations in Violet and Grey—Market Place, Dieppe by James McNeill Whistler

It’s not so much a heaviness,
the oppressive weight of wet wool;
instead, it’s as though my molecules
are moving outward from the center,
mimicking the universal flight
from the Big Bang—though I hear
how grandiose that sounds.

It’s just that the edges become indistinct
and you may begin to see the busy streetlife
right through me, in patches
of color and noise and volition. And soon
I am mixing with the pollen of elms,
the billion billion motes of skin cells
catching fire in the afternoon.

Read More

The Animal Trade

Winner of the 2009 New Ohio Review Prize in Fiction (selected by Peter Ho Davies)

By Christine Nicolai

Featured Art: Paard by Anton Mauve

It was close to midnight when Vic heard a shotgun echoing somewhere nearby. If Sue were still around, he’d have put on his boots and stomped out to the porch in his bathrobe, scanning the front yard and street in the twilight. If she were here, he’d have seen that it was all clear and come back to bed where she’d have been frozen under the blankets, breathing those shallow, rabbitty breaths, like she was flattened in a clump of weeds, waiting for the fox to move on. Without Sue, Vic told himself it wasn’t a shotgun he’d heard, because shots at midnight usually meant someone was doing something they shouldn’t.

This was midsummer, humid and hot. Even though it was long after the fourth, the noise could have been an M-80 or Salute, picked up from the reservation. Every couple of weeks one of the guys at the restaurant complained about kids lobbing cherry bombs into front lawns and tearing off down the street, yelping at the stars. That was an explanation he could almost hold in his hand, except that he knew it was the sharp-edged sound of a shotgun that had crackled through the night. His jeans were on the floor. He put them on in the dark and went to check the doors, sticking his head out the back, trying to make out more than just the outline of the barn against the dark sky. The gate leading to the back pasture appeared to be shut, which meant that Toby, the gelding Sue had left behind, should be all right. He closed the door.

Read More

Reverend Tyree (excerpted from the novel Haints)

By Clint McCown

Featured Art: Rusty Car by Ellery Pollard

As Reverend Tyree settled himself onto the torn front seat of his rust-spotted DeSoto and turned the ignition, he had a brief moment of hope. The motor sputtered, coughed, and whirred without catching. He turned the key again, with the same result. The old rattletrap was trying to give him a night off, it seemed. One more failed attempt and he would be justified in staying home with Mildred and his mother and listening to the radio for a change. And why shouldn’t he stay at home? The clean-up crews hadn’t fully cleared the streets after the tornado, so driving could be dangerous, especially on the side of town where the county jail was located. The inmates wouldn’t care if he skipped a visit. But when he turned the key a third time, the engine caught, and that was it, he was trapped for yet another Saturday night.

He dreaded the jailhouse even more than the hospital. The hospital was relatively cheerful, especially in the evenings, and he had learned that if he made his rounds about an hour after dinnertime, many of the patients he was supposed to visit would have already drifted off to sleep. Then he could sit by their beds and read magazines. He would always leave evidence of his visit—a printed card with a picture of Jesus on it and a passage from St. Luke: Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.

Read More

Good God

By Mark Jarman

Featured Art: Girl With Apple by Ellery Pollard

Instead of casting them out of paradise,
Instead of making them labor in pain and sweat,
Instead of instilling tristesse after coitus,
Instead of giving them fire to burn their house down
And light their way into the outer world,
He could have split them, each with a memory of the other,
And put them each into a separate world.

Read More

Aphorism Aporia

By A. E. Stallings

Featured Art: Study for “An Aragonese Smuggler” by William Turner Dannat

What else should I do
But cry for what is spilled?
Not for the fresh glass,
Frothy, newly filled,
Safe on the tabletop
Beside the slice of cake,
Still untouched and chilled,

But for this little lake
The cat laps on the floor,
The glass poured for your sake,
That you would have me pour,
Negative of ink
Filling in the blank
Indelible mistake—

Read More

How Someone Can Not Recognize You

By Aja Gabel

Featured Art: Paris Bridge by Arthur B. Carles

Six days after my father dies, seven blind masseurs hold hands and leap from the Han River Bridge in downtown Seoul, into the shallow water beneath the lighted apex, their bodies a disruption in a mirror they’d never seen. I read about this in the newspaper I collect from the front of my father’s house, all damp and bleeding ink from the past week’s frost. In my father’s office I spread the papers out on his desk and trace my fingers down the pages, to see if I’ve missed anything. I’m looking for murders, plane crashes, natural disasters, economic collapse, impending apocalypse. I stop at the society pages, the comics, the crosswords. For several minutes I consider an eight-letter word for “felicity.” The only answer I can come up with is, “felicity.” Sometimes it happens that way.

The Korean masseurs’ story catches my eye because they have a large color picture of the bridge. It must be one of those time-lapse photos, where the car lights ghost into a gold blur and the surface of the river is steely and reflective. Four vaulted columns rise from the river and hold a statue of a torch, under which I imagine the masseurs must have jumped. How could they have jumped from anywhere else on that bridge? But then, how would they know? How would they know that that was the center? Did they feel the wind die down under the canopy? Did they hear it slice through the steel cables? Did a sighted woman lead them there and say here, here is where you would jump if you were going to jump, not that you are, and then they laughed, and took off their glasses, wiped their eyes of sleep, or of drink, said thank you, you’re kind, leave us now, we just want for a moment to enjoy the view.

Read More

Cherry Pop-Tarts®

By Heather McNaugher

Featured Art: Sweet Tooth by Dylan Petrea

I decide this will be it, my last pop-tart, cherry,
as I stand at the circ desk of the college library
and tear up your number
which I had written on a Post-it®, Hello Kitty®,
and then stuck to my ID.
The computer says I love you I owe 29 dollars
for Frank O’Hara and that thesaurus
I borrowed when I taught the class
how to find a synonym. I’m sorry. Hello Kitty’s ears
are burning—so tiny, so pink,
and so I pulverize them.
Read More

Only Hat

By Julie Hanson

Featured Art: The Purple Dress by William Glackens

My sadness has the texture of a dime store balloon;
when I slide my hand across it, I get no pleasure from it.

My sadness has no merit whatsoever.

Read More

Sex

By Michael Madonick

Featured Art: Nude Lying On Bed by Anders Zorn

nobody is asking but I’m ready to say there are things we should not speak of the private convoluting movements of embrace that is why there is night for the unspoken the unspeakable the sand lily’s up-turn of its cup in darkness moisture makes much of itself enough said enough unsaid but there cannot be an end to it the need to lose the self find the self escape to matters consequential involving arms legs the mouth attaching in certain and uncertain ways fingertips toes the octopus’ obsession with its den the Egyptian threaded membrane behind the knee a gasp that pleads for god though nobody really wants a god to show recline on the chaise-lounge score such a thing though god knows we do the best we can ducks are different nearly drowning in it the neck bite back-driven furious flurry of it a kind of underwater consecration of a devious sects’ commingling no one should watch such a thing be vigilant in fact to not observe that should be a given that we should close our eyes to it be under the covers lights off candles blown only during an eclipse be the prisoner moving to a courthouse our cuffs shielded by the daily news hide in a raincoat from the paparazzi the fabric of our lust the uncontainable stupor that brings us to our innocence our knees our inexhaustible innocence unknowing in its rhythms over and over again and again

Read More

The Vacuum

By Julie Hanson

Featured Art: Woman Bathing by Mary Cassatt

Don’t ask what it was all about.
Ask instead how sudden it was, how complete.
One minute I was an ordinary woman
vacuuming, a thing it seemed I had too recently done,
and the next minute sobbing,
emitting sounds loud, rapid, and long.
It was the kind of sobbing that makes you feel five—
five years old, or housing a feeling five people wide.
I was seated, my left elbow on my left knee,
my glasses hanging from my left hand
as if they were the problem,
(no use in wearing them, no use in putting them down)
and the vacuum, part pet, part sculpture,
sprawled awkwardly, still shrieking
on the floor in front of me.
The sorrow seemed pulled from outside, unselectively,
as if I had swallowed a magnet.
Each time I felt that I could silence this,
that something had been spent, something settled,
I opened my eyes to that canister,
attachments on its back, hose, and extension,
reality-piece which had withstood the worst of me,
had witnessed, and was unaffected.

Read More

The Mixer

By Leslie Daniels

Featured Art: Cock and Hen by Kawabata Gyokushō

When I was a child of two and my mother was mixing my birthday cake, she let me pull my pants down and sit in a plate of cake flour. I remember the paper plate on the floor, and her pretty ankles going between countertop and stove. She was a child psychologist and she understood that you need to feel things to know them. The bottom test was my own invention. I remember the exquisite sensation, and the hum of the mixer.

Many years later I was the mother making the birthday cake, the oven preheating, mixing with an electric mixer. It was the morning of the party and I was making All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake from The Cake Bible. It’s the only cookbook I own for which I have too much respect to mess around with the recipes. I don’t care much about cakes, though they are a good meeting place of butter and sugar, but to other people in my life—my daughter who was turning three—cake is important.

Read More

Bad

By Steven Cramer

Featured Art: Bolete & Bird by Dylan Petrea

It got bad; pretty bad; then not
so bad; very bad; then back to bad.
Jesus, let’s let things not get even worse.

A weird fall. Nearly ninety
one day, leaf mold making our house
all red eyes and throats. Don’t think

about Thanksgiving, but hope
for a decent Halloween. Everywhere
gas-powered leaf-blowers growling—

Christ, let’s let things not get even worse.

Read More

November

By Richard Cecil

Featured Art: Stacks of Wheat (End of Summer) by Claude Monet

November is the time between conviction
and sentencing, when you’re still out on bail.
You’re sort of free, pending the rejection
of your appeal, but you are bound for jail.
There’s no point pleading that your weren’t guilty
of stealing pleasure from warm summer air—
you were caught, grinning, on camera. The penalty
is ninety days in winter’s prison. Unfair!
I only did what everybody does
when tempted irresistibly to strip
wool socks and parkas off and take a dip
in summer heat. You can’t tell bees, “don’t buzz.”
November shrugs in answer to your pleas:
Ninety days for you. Death for the bees.

Read More

Climber

By Richard Cecil

Featured Art: The Belated Party on Mansfield Mountain by Jerome B. Thompson

I set out from Poor Valley to climb Mt. Rich.
Light’s failing now. I’ll have to stop to rest
somewhere below the summit. But my palms itch
to clutch at higher handholds, though, at best,
I’d claw up to an outcrop of a cave
to hole up in. I’ll never reach the peak.
Why not just plant my flag here, grin and wave
at my camera set on auto-shoot? Why seek
a slightly higher level of success?
I’ll never, never make it to the top.
I’m told the middle of the mountain’s best.
The slope grows steeper past halfway; the drop
precipitous. But oh, to be one of the few!
Although they die and lose their money, too.

Read More

Yet

By Eric Torgersen

Featured Art: The Enchanted Mesa by William Henry Holmes

a voice I haven’t sung from yet
—Bruce Springsteen

Hang him from a tree he hasn’t hung from yet.
Fling him off a bridge no one’s been flung from yet.

Send succor, in whatever dark disguise:
a hornet’s nest he’s not gone running, stung, from yet.

He’d have it be a tower, not a steeple—
the height in him no bell has rung from yet.

Read More

Scenario

By Eric Torgersen

Featured Art: Elk and Buffalo Making Acquaintance, Texas by George Catlin

Had enough of the old lonesome-and-blue scenario?
Up for a shot at the old I-love-you scenario?

Man enough to leave your comfort zone
in the good old get-drunk-and-screw scenario?

Let’s be real. Love hurts. Even you, you stud, you.
Sure you can handle the old boo-hoo scenario?

Don’t even try to guess what she really wants;
be ready for the old you-don’t-have-a-clue scenario.

Tell her, “I’ll always honor your personhood.”
What’s more of a drag than the old I’m-a-person-too scenario?

It’s never not a good time to say, “My bad.”
Don’t lean too hard on the old I-never-knew scenario.

Read More

Pharaoh

By David Wojahn

Featured Art: The Great Pyramid, Giza by Adrien Dauzats

We had eaten the placenta in a soup that someone based on a family recipe 

for menudo, though someone else—

it was Bill, I think—joked that it tasted just like chicken. This Year’s Model 

was brand new & the needle stuck

on “Lipstick Vogue,” Costello snarling not just another mouth, not just 

another mouth, until Joe

set down the bong & flicked the tone arm forward from the scratch. 

& anyway, by this time

Amy was shouting from the bedroom that she’d finally gotten Star to sleep, 

that the music should be

Mozart or something. I’ve forgotten the midwife’s name, but she sat 

sprawled on a patio lawn chair,

Read More

Foreign Excellent

By Michelle Herman

Featured Art: The Last Dance by Mackenzie Siler

It wasn’t that I didn’t like her. I liked her fine—that’s what I would have said if anyone had asked me. But I knew better than to get too attached to the women who dated my next-door neighbor, John. Women cycled through his life pretty quickly, and so far all the ones I’d met had been crazy, anyway—too crazy for me, if not for him. John pursued crazy; he thought crazy was charming. And while she didn’t necessarily seem crazy, I’d learned that you couldn’t always tell at first (that actually you could hardly ever tell at first).

Did she like me? It was impossible to judge. She was friendly enough, always polite if not warm. Certainly she was more guarded than I (but then just about everyone I have ever met is more guarded than I). I could not have read her even if I’d tried. But I didn’t try, because we weren’t friends.

And then she cracked her skull—she almost died—and suddenly we were.

Read More

Why Men Don’t Write About Their Wives

By Dennis Sampson

Featured Art: Crouching Nude in Shoes and Black Stockings, Back View by Egon Schiele

It took him a lifetime to figure out
he hadn’t the slightest idea
who she was. Rereading
Milton’s Paradise Lost one night,
he elected to set things right. He would recall

what had never dawned on him
in an epithalamion of all their vows,
her face as gray and drawn and haunted now
as that which miraculously appeared
to Milton in his sonnet “Methought I Saw.”
He’d been blind

Read More

My Daughter’s Narcolepsy

By Keith Taylor

Featured Art: The Public Viewing David’s “Coronation” at the Louvre by Louis Léopold Boilly

Before we received the official
diagnosis, we loved to recount
her sleep episodes. My favorite:
the Louvre, in front of those gigantic
paintings David made celebrating
the coronation of Josephine
and Napoleon before the French
nobles. My daughter drooled on the bench.


Read More

Anthropomorphic Duck

By Robert Wrigley

Featured Art: A Green-winged Teal by Jagdish Mittal

Every morning, the solitary blue-winged teal drake
swam the east-to-west length of the high mountain lake
in silence. Every evening he’d fly back
uttering on his way a single sad quack.
What we wondered, my sons and I, was why.

Why here, an otherwise duckless nowhere? The sky
was wide and blue above him; surely the flyways beckoned.
Though we also knew we had no way of reckoning
what kind of inner life he might have possessed,
if inner life is what instinct is, or if he was lost,

or if—and this, we understood, was as much about ourselves—
there was something he himself had lost. Was our blue wing
blue because, like certain geese, his kind mates for life?
This was how we came to refer to her as his wife,
as Mrs. Teal, the missing one, for whom he mourned,

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Horse, Alone, November

By Joyce Peseroff

Featured Art: Prancing Horse by Jean Louis André Théodore Géricault

She’s teaching him
no harm will slither up his legs
like chilly steam above a pond at night,
or plummet from almost leafless trees
when she saddles his pasture-mate
and they swish between the pointed firs
into spectral woods. Left behind,
alone, he paces the golden perimeter
of fence post and electric wire,
a fragment of eternity falling
red on his rolling shoulder
when he jars the ground beneath
the gnomon in a field
a single maple makes.

Read More

The Gray Museum

By Sydney Lea

Featured Art: Canal Scene Near Bruges, Belgium by William Stanley Haseltine

Flat on their tapestry, hawks and hounds
and a corps of horsemen showed that much flatter
for the sleeted windows. All of Manhattan
seemed a great gray museum.
Our words went blurry. It was never romance.
Or do you insist?
I thought how mountains sag into deltas

with time. From a sill outside drab pigeons
flushed into haze—and were erased.
The horsemen’s woven reins went slack.
In a hotel bed
later that night, even sleep turned gray:
in my dream, a train
huffed till the station misted like glass;

Read More

Feature: Stories You May Have Missed

We asked 15 writers to reflect on under-appreciated contemporary short stories. Their responses follow.

Lydia Davis
Stuart Dybek
Carol Anshaw
Max Apple
Alan Cheuse
Erin McGraw
Robert Cohen
Nicholas Delbanco
Lynne Sharon Schwartz
Tracy Daugherty
Steven Schwartz
Andrea Barrett
Francine Prose
Jim Shepard
Rosellen Brown

“Dog Heaven” by Stephanie Vaughn

By Carol Anshaw

Featured Art: Little Girl and Dog by Hablot Knight Browne

I could have chosen this story for its first line alone:

“Every so often that dead dog dreams me up again.”

But much more awaits the reader in this tightly controlled yet seemingly casual narrative. Gemma, the story’s protagonist, goes on to say, “It’s twenty-five years later, I’m walking along 42nd Street in Manhattan, the sounds of the city crashing beside me—horns, gearshifts, insults—somebody’s chewing gum holding my foot to the pavement, when that dog wakes from his long sleep and imagines me.

“I’m sweet again. I’m sweet-breathed and flat-limbed. Our family is stationed at Fort Niagara, and the dog swims his red heavy fur into the black Niagara River.” [all Sweet Talk, 176]

Read More

“The Moon In Its Flight“ by Gilbert Sorrentino

By Robert Cohen

Featured Art: Monk Meditating near a Ruin by Moonlight by Frederik Marinus Kruseman

I first came upon “The Moon In Its Flight” as a graduate student in my mid- twenties, in a book called Many Windows, a now long out of print anthology put together by Ted Solotaroff from his seminal literary magazine of the seventies, New American Review. It’s fair to say it blew my mind. This was not entirely unusual. I had my mind blown pretty regularly at that time: the rest of me wasn’t getting much, and I was nothing if not impressionable. But twenty-odd years later, having reread the story for teaching and other purposes, oh, about a hundred times now, it still blows my mind—if anything more so than before. What this says about me I’m not sure I even want to think about. But what it says about “The Moon In Its Flight” I do want to think about, if not emulate, if not imitate, if not crassly and slavishly steal.

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“The Ebony Tower“ by John Fowles

By Nicholas Delbanco

Featured Art: Sunset Over Tower and River by Arnold William Brunner

Post-mortems in prose fiction are risky to pronounce; the dead do have a way of quickening again. This week’s much-celebrated text will be, in thirty years, forgotten; what’s lost may reappear. And in this particular instance I’m not rescuing arcana; Sir Laurence Olivier played the protagonist of John Fowles’s “The Ebony Tower” for a television film. Too, the short story collection of which this is the title piece lodged comfortably on the New York Times Best Seller List for six full months in 1974-75.

It’s possible, however, that Fowles’s reputation as a “serious” author has been undermined by commercial success; in England particularly, it would seem—though I have only anecdotal evidence for this—he was thought of as a popular and therefore unimportant writer. “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” gets transformed, in critical discourse, to, “If you’re so wealthy, how could you be smart?” and Fowles has been devalued in part because of fame.

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“The Accompanist” by Anita Desai

By Lynne Sharon Schwartz

Featured Art: Female performer with tanpura by Unknown

For a short story to linger in the mind as long and as tenaciously as “The Accompanist” has in mine, it must hit a sensitive nerve. So in revisiting the story, which I first came upon years ago in Anita Desai’s early collection, Games at Twilight, I looked for what had struck me so keenly in this first-person account of an Indian musician from a poor background who dedicates his life to the most humble of accompanying instruments, the tanpura.

The narrator’s father makes musical instruments and music is “the chief household deity.” Soon after Bhaiyya’s lessons begin at the age of four, his talent is obvious: “My father could see it clearly—I was a musician . . ., a performer of music, that is what he saw. He taught me all the ragas, the raginis, and tested my knowledge with rapid, persistent questioning in his unmusical, grating voice.” The father is stern and rough, never offering praise or encouragement, only calling his son a “stupid, backward boy.”

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“Enough” by Alice McDermott

By Tracy Daugherty

Featured Art: Wild Femininity Series: Giraffe by Mackenzie Siler

It is always fascinating when a novelist tries her hand at short fiction. If the endeavor succeeds, it is because the novelist’s expansiveness finds expression in its opposite: intense compression. On April 10, 2000, Alice McDermott, best known for such novels as The Bigamist’s Daughter, That Night, At Weddings and Wakes, and Charming Billy, published a short story called “Enough” in the New Yorker. In nineteen carefully-orchestrated paragraphs, the story traces the life of a middle-class American woman, from childhood to old age, using such rich domestic imagery, the reader feels as if an entire era has been fitted into a neat container, like a child’s shoebox full of keepsakes.

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“In Miami, Last Winter” by James Kaplan

By Steven Schwartz

Featured Art: Untitled (Seascape with Houses on Beach) by Unknown

I was worried. Thirty years had passed since I looked at the story. Every writer has a list of stories he carries around in his head, if only he were to put together that anthology of personally selected hits. To go back and pick one . . . well, a lot rested on it.

“In Miami, Last Winter,” by James Kaplan, was first published in Esquire in 1977. I came across it then—at twenty-six years old—and then again the following year when it was anthologized in Best American Short Stories 1978. The second—and last time—I read it I admired it even more, a sure test of a story’s staying power. You know the plot, you know the characters’ dilemmas, you know the story’s stakes, yet you’re still dazzled by its force to catch you up in its immediacy. Indeed every story works toward establishing a renewable present: the ability to make the reader experience its effects anew. In short, you fall helplessly under its spell once more.

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“The Remission” by Mavis Gallant

By Andrea Barrett

Featured Art: The Funeral by Edouard Manet

One of my favorite stories is Mavis’ Gallant’s “The Remission,” which is set in the early 1950s but was written in the late 1970s. Superficially straightforward, it reveals its virtuosity slowly and deviously, stating its premise outright in the first line:

When it became clear that Alec Webb was far more ill than anyone had cared to tell him, he tore up his English life and came down to die on the Riviera.

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“Mlle Dias de Corta” by Mavis Gallant

By Francine Prose

Featured Art: Vegetarian Appetizer by Ellery Pollard

To my mind, Mavis Gallant’s “Mlle Dias de Corta” is the most brilliant example of a story that focuses on a protagonist who might seem initially “unsympathetic” or at least problematic—in this case, an elderly French woman, the story’s narrator—and performs the magic trick of making the reader’s heart just break and break for her. It’s written in the second person, the potentially trashiest point of view, yet manages to persuade us that no other choice of perspective would have been appropriate or even possible. It’s framed as an unsent—and unsendable—letter from the unnamed narrator to the eponymous former boarder in the narrator’s Paris apartment and (incidentally, though of course not incidentally at all) the former lover of the narrator’s son. It’s a family drama, of course, but also a thrilling examination of xenophobia and nationalism; our narrator is always accusing Mlle Dias de Corta of pretending to be French—that is, of claiming to belong to that most favored and elite breed of human, at the very apex of culture and civilization—and not really being French, but rather Portuguese or something equally inferior and suspect. By the end of the story, we understand the insecurity and terror, the loneliness and disappointment, all the painful emotions that translate into suspicion of, and prejudice against, the other, the outsider—indeed, into fear of change of any sort. It moves effortlessly across decades and through time, and addresses large societal and political issues (from abortion to racism) without ever venturing very far from the narrator’s claustrophobia-inducing flat. Its rhetoric is vertiginously passive-aggressive (though it does make you wonder what exactly is the passive part of that equation) and consequently hilarious. There’s a family dinner in front of the TV (French TV at its most pompous and absurd) that makes one’s blood run cold. Finally, it rewards close reading and rereading, since there’s so much subtext that can be missed—the narrator’s anxiety about her son and his sexuality, to take just one example—unless you pay the story the patient, exacting attention that it earns and deserves. It’s one of my very favorite stories to teach; you can watch the light blink on and come up in your students’ eyes.

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“Fenstad’s Mother” by Charles Baxter

By Rosellen Brown

Featured Art: Winterlandschap by Jan Daniël Cornelis Carel Willem baron de Constant Rebecque

Charles Baxter’s “Fenstad’s Mother” has all the earmarks of its author’s easygoing style: it is beguiling in its light-footed and non-judgmental way with serious subjects, and dead-on accurate in its understanding of the contradictory and contrarian.

The first paragraph lays out a family dichotomy succinctly, in a neutral third person. Although Fenstad and his aged mother are very different, from the first we see them trying for a respectful relationship. For one thing, though Fenstad is a church-goer, his mother was “a lifelong social progressive . . . She had spent her life in the company of rebels and deviationists.” She is an unrepentant critic of things—many things—as they are; even the smell of her apartment, which “smelled of soap and Lysol,” hints of “an old woman who wouldn’t tolerate nonsense.” Fenstad’s effortful goodness, she clearly believes, is suspect.

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