A Grown-Up Among Literary Journals
The Spring 2015 issue of The Cossack Review is full of engaging pieces that give the installment a serious, measured feel. Each of the contributing pieces seem executed with a gravity, weighted perhaps, with the hope for efficacy more than other objectives, in literary production. This issue accomplishes a conventional, intelligent discourse on subjects like personal power, nature, evolution, and human consciousness, to name some, and the pace is unhurried, throughout. If there is something lacking in this issue of TCR, it’s the sense of urgency or displaced energy that characterizes, in this reader’s opinion, so many of the newer, contemporary lit journals. This is not a mark against the publication; on the contrary, I believe it is an observation of the journal’s mature editorial outlook.
Volumn 3, issue 1 of TCR focuses more heavily on prose than on poetry and other genres, and the cast of storytelling contributors is thoughtful and diverse: In her short story, “The Splendid Reclamation of the Dynamo,” Caroline Tracey captures a generation’s preoccupation with human endeavor; the conquering of nature for industry and national pride. Ultimately, what Tracey conveys in this piece, is the idea that our ideals and the things we identify with outside of ourselves, are not and can never be commensurate to one’s own agency. The story deals with youth, rites of passage, disappointment, and overarching those, the tropes of building up and breaking down—both of physical and emotional landmarks.
Dan Gutstein’s story, “I Depreciate That” is a narrative that explores the dissonances between a young man’s personal and professional life. The juxtaposition of Denny’s life in a contentious firm and his life at home with his family, including his terminally ill younger brother, is a striking commentary on values. Gutstein’s narrative style is transparent and immediate. The characters, while not deep or even very compelling, are real and open, and the motivations underlying their actions are poignant. This is a very human story, ending on a tenuous note that leaves the reader to fill in for herself the implications of what has happened. There is no “aha” moment, but the seeds of change are rarely sown atop a mountain and Gutstein conveys this expertly.
Last but not least, J. Bowers story “Lady, the Mind-Reading Mare” is an unexpectedly bright narrative about the competing motivators of science and spirituality, centered around a man of science, Dr. Joseph Rhine, and a curious duo—a confident young woman and her mare, Lady, whom the former describes as “educated” and able to answer any individual’s questions, using an elaborate typewriter-like invention. The mare, it is believed, is adept at ESP and seekers and skeptics, even Dr. Rhine himself, travel to see the horse and be told what they are thinking. The story is heavily influenced by a familiar philosophical trope: Gilbert Ryle’s “ghost in the machine,”—a way of describing the dualist nature of mind and body. There is no conclusion to be drawn at the close of this story; at the end, we’re left merely with circumstances and the characters’ own interpretations and anxieties about them, reflecting our culture’s ongoing discourse on the objective/subjective nature of reality.
Sprinkled throughout this issue of TCR are several shorter pieces. Susan Frith’s flash narrative, “Hollow Cuts,” is a stark glimpse into the lives of two individuals playing out heavily enforced gender roles, with a staunchness belied only by the protagonist’s sparse, but concise inner dialogue. This character’s stream of consciousness conveys her doubts and disappointments to the reader. The piece is deceptively simple, but it brings to mind works of similar style and brevity, such as Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.”
Ivan de Monbrison’s “The Nanny,” is also short and sweet. His first-person narration is a reminiscence about a remarkable woman who raised the main character and many other children in a generation that the now adult narrator feels removed from, emotionally and idealogically.
Carrie Oeding’s essay “Uncounting” is an especially engaging and introspective look at the act of storytelling itself, and the anxiety one can feel about playing out the arch of one’s personal life experiences authentically. I especially enjoyed Oeding’s piece, because it is particularly honest about society’s most played-out tropes and how one chooses to live within them in an uncontrived manner.
The poetic selections in this issue of TCR are somewhat sparse. But several of them stand out for the poet’s ability to transport the reader not so much to physical settings, but emotional ones. Marlys West, in his piece “Who Came Before” writes about the way nature reflects his feelings for a deceased friend. The language is organic and ethereal, introspective.
Dan Klen’s “Visit to Santorini” is very similar in theme—the narrator is missing an old friend or lover—and his surroundings, a more urban environment, evoke memories and a sense of regret.
One of the most captivating works of poetry in this collection, is Melissa Jordan’s “Come, Butter, Come.” It deals with loss and the healing process of creating art, with the cruelty of misunderstanding and narrow social constructs, and with assumptions about gender.
Other selections—Charles Jensen’s “Eurydice’s Complaint,” Michael Montlack’s “From Poland with Love,” and Gabrielle Campagnano’s “Nocturne on Race Brook Falls,” are serious reflections on love and manipulation, geneology, and communion with nature, respectively and all show significant attention to the craft in form and pace, good in technique, effective in conveying its themes and content, though perhaps not as compelling as the other work mentioned above.
Overall, what The Cossack Review accomplishes in this issue is a carefully compiled curating of fiction, essays, and poems that speak to human experience and the natural world with grace and technical aplomb. As literary journals go, this particular journal seems almost matronly—the grown-up among other relatively young lit publications. The feel is a little more guarded, but the showcasing of talents is remarkable. A good read, with plenty of space for the reader to “expand” within the narratives and poems, which is something all successful literature should boast.