Our Jeffrey E. Smith Editors’ Prize winner in poetry, Kai Carlson-Wee, focuses on the gritty, visceral details of growing up on the West Coast as two brothers scavenge grocery store Dumpsters, dead rats rot in an alley and a severed head is found in a playground. Carlson-Wee expands moments of growing up into a larger contemplation of the human condition, including our desire for transcendence despite our physical limitations and time’s inevitable passing. He asks, “What grainy, impossible dreams/used to guide us?” and “What do we find in the comfort/of time’s absent shadow?”
David Lee, who was Utah’s first Poet Laureate in the 1990s, is a genius at the unlikely category of rural vernacular poetry. He gives voice to strangely real characters and families: a father growing his hair out at his daughter’s request; a farming woman dying of a broken hip alongside her slow-witted husband, who makes sometimes worse than ineffectual attempts at attentiveness. Hilarious and sometimes sad, Lee’s poems appreciate the tinge of absurdity in many of our ambitions and actions. Kerry Hardie’s poems are elegies for her younger brother, who died unexpectedly in India while making a film there. It is a moving sequence that tries to come to terms with personal loss and make sense of the universal subject of death from the liminal boundary of the living.
The fiction in this issue includes Brian Van Reet’s “Eat the Spoil,” an Iraq war story about a mission to discover the source of mortar fire bombarding a camp outside Baghdad. The gunner-narrator describes going out in a tank convoy to locate the enemy. Command is convinced that [End Page 5] the enemy has escaped the fire of attack helicopters and is hiding out in the hospital that they come upon, but when soldiers enter to search the building, the lunacy of the situation is just beginning.
Much of this issue shows interest in family and generational passings and rifts. The Smith Prize–winning story “Consider this Case” by Melissa Yancy describes tension between a father and son whose lives are filled with all-too-real ironies: the father is a famous but now retired decorator who is dying, while the son is a successful fetal surgeon in the bloom of his career, who somehow still feels uncomfortable in his father’s company and even a bit intimidated by him. The two have genuine differences: the son is openly gay yet sexually naive, and he has never been able to care much about style and appearances, while his decorator father has lived as a heterosexual (possibly a self-deception) but is more ruthlessly aesthetic than Oscar Wilde. It’s a grand story about the unlikely rapport that can happen despite what seem like inalterable differences between generations.
Monica McFawn depicts a father-son relationship that is even more strained in her story “The Chautauqua Sessions.” A son with a long history of drug addiction shows up, making the claim that he has gone straight, at a time when his father is attempting to revive his career as a song lyricist. Everything about the son is unlikely, including his story of what inspired him to kick the habit and his offer to help his father—or is it unlikely? What the father is about to find out about his son is paradoxically almost more frightening to him than the worst possible news.
Jill N. Kandel’s essay “Paying the Piper” explores her Dutch father-in-law’s decision to commit assisted suicide by relying on the Netherlands’ 2002 law legalizing euthanasia. “I never dreamed that these laws would affect my life, and I am a pretty good dreamer. Maybe I should have seen it coming,” writes Kandel. Because the father is neither ill nor depressed nor disabled, the essay takes convincing issue with what many assume to be a humane option. Dave Zoby’s Smith Prize–winning essay “Café Misfit” narrates a period in the early ’90s when Zoby was in graduate school in Richmond, Virginia. A pair of Italian men from Philadelphia opened a restaurant in the decaying Fan neighborhood of...