West Coast Delights
ZYZZYVA publishes west coast writers. Readers back east might approach this crowd with trepidation. Good heavens, one thinks. How many canyons must I endure? How many freeways? How many farmers' markets?
Not many in this issue. The best stories take place almost entirely indoors. "Family Kleenex" by Briandaniel Oglesby follows a clan of seven as they raid tissue boxes to clean up their messes--semen from jack-off marathons, puss from exploding zits, blood from an infanticide.Oglesby telegraphs that last part a bit too heavily, but everything leading up to it is flawless. He begins almost every paragraph with a number (of tissues) used in the aftermath of some domestic catastrophe. It's a smart device revealing each character's very repetitive, very private hell. Clearly, Oglesby understands rhythm, and he knows fiction can't truly live without it--his debut leads a strong collection of stories in this issue.
In "Sunday School" by Naomi J. Williams, a yuppie mom named Miranda lands at the Episcopal Church for a season of living differently, if not quite as dangerously as she'd like. She flirts with the parish priests' gay assistant, mutilates children by accident during a craft activity and leaves her crossword-addicted husband--in one version. Williams includes several alternative endings, each resting on the same principle: even the well heeled need healing. But whenever "Sunday School" takes a sentimental turn, Williams writes herself out of it with drably comedic interludes.
Other stories include Roger D. Coleman's "Alien Fusion," Tori Malcangio's "Coveting Stucco" and Laurence Yep's "The Chinese Teacher." Coleman inverts the WASPY courtship ritual, as a father grills his son's male fiancé on his future earning prospects.It's funny for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Coleman's age. At 91, he proves the sexual revolution preceded the Boomers.
Malcangio references The Killers, heralding the mp3 generation's invasion of high-lit circles--let me be the first to say welcome. Yep puts a fresh twist on his finding-your-roots tale of a young Chinese-American teaching English in the mother country. One man goes from pauper to premiere of a small Chinese town, and the American can't tell if he's bluffing when he recites poetry he claims to have authored. It's a potentially clichéd structure that works here, mainly because no one's all that likeable, or nefarious, or so thoroughly aggrieved as to elicit pity.
Bucky Sinister's poems dominate the verse offerings. He crafts poetry ostensibly from The Streets, but most of us know better. Sinister traffics in irony, not contraband. Wrap your mind around this title: "What the Dot-Com Years Did For the Drug Trade." Not much, you think? Think again. This poem will enlighten.
Earnest humanities grads will of course appreciate the political conceit--pushers work hard too, they just can't get a foot in the door. Comp-Lit. Doctoral students will appreciate the quirky voice--can we trust this raconteur, and can we draw parallels to Chaucer's highwaymen? Everyone else will just appreciate the humor. Sinister mollifies all three camps with a handful of inventive pieces.
Other solid offerings come from Kate Evans, Matt Schumacher and Michael McClure, this issue's lone rock star. In Evans' "I Have No," a childless woman "will never be told to fuck off/ by the teenaged version of the baby/ whose lips used to pull at my nipple..." Evans has written an elegy for everyone's lost time, it seems. She gets there with visceral images and smart-alecky asides--never an easy task, but well worth the trouble if you can hack it. Evans can.
Schumacher's prose poem "The Fire" begins with, "Under the pretence of catastrophe, we impersonated volunteer firemen." The wannabes "became shifting apparitions, trying to trick people into leaving their houses before the fire arrived in order to save their lives." Real people have found far more destructive ways to create meaning throughout history. Schumacher's pretend firemen offer a sound alternative.
McClure plays with structure in "Nine Elephants" like all Beat holdovers, cobbling this together:
LIKE ANGELS BATHING
ears and tusks
in a deep forest pool
I love you.