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Foreword Many of the selections in this issue have to do with secret lives. This is by accident, not design, as is usually the case with MR. Our experience with the pitfalls of special issues has made us wary of choosing the theme before the contents. In the four months it takes to put together a magazine, it's next to impossible to find two hundred pages of excellent material on, say, "children." That's why we don't do theme issues. We explain this to authors when they call to ask what kind of piece to send. They're confused; the cover of the last issue said "Comic Fiction" (or "Love and Danger," or "Greed," or "Generations"). Well, yes, but it just sort of happened that way. We didn't go out looking for comic stories; they came to us. And we certainly didn't turn down any good ones because they weren't funny. A good story—a really exceptional one—is a pearl beyond price. As is a penetrating essay, or poems that astonish. They don't show up in our office every day. So no, MR doesn't "do" themes. Its soul is too miscellaneous. Our editorial practice is to wait and see, accepting the best material we can find and waiting for it to gel—which it always does, though sometimes in surprising configurations. Early on in the genesis of the magazine you're holding, we seemed to be heading toward an issue about illicit sex (we hope no one is disappointed that it didn't turn out that way). Adultery, prostitution, pedophilia: those were the topics, suddenly, of an unusually large number of our better fiction submissions, the ones we passed around and considered seriously. A couple of these stories made the cut, including "Ray Sips A Low Quitter," Amy Knox Brown's dead-on anatomy of adultery. But in the end, several of the others didn't quite measure up; also, the two poetry features, the essays and several other stories we'd accepted were distinctly un-steamy. What had looked like a budding theme turned out to be a dead end—somewhat to our relief, since if there's any subject that's overplayed in literary magazines as everywhere else, it's sex. By the time the issue was nearly full, we still hadn't found the cipher that would unlock it. Then a manuscript arrived from Israel, a story as light and economical as the brown airmail envelope it came in. The story was Jerome Mandel's "Another Life," about the mysteries of identity. It was different, intriguing; and so streamlined—proof among the piles of twenty-five pagers that a story doesn't have to explain and develop and show everything, that it's often better, in fact, if it doesn't. We passed it around and talked about it. Decided we liked it. And found that we had our theme. Secret lives. In a way, all of literature is about them. In fiction and drama especially, where the engine is conflict, the characters' often unsavory or dangerous secret lives may drive the plot. But even when the lives portrayed are thoroughly open and aboveboard, they are nevertheless the creation of an author who mined his or her own secret life to invent them. For the reader, too, literature is a "secret life"—or perhaps it would be better to say that literature enriches the secret lives of its audience. More than with most art forms, the appreciation of writing is a private activity that spurs individual thought—which, of course, is the mainstay of a secret life. I won't bore anyone with a personal history of reading; dipping into Alberto Manguel's new encyclopedic A History of Reading brought home to me how typical my experience is. Manguel, an Argentineturned -Canadian essayist, son of a diplomat, tells of choosing his childhood reading material in the bookstores of Paris and Cyprus. Yet his early reading experiences in exotic locales are virtually identical to my Midwestern ones. Manguel writes: "Reading gave me an excuse for privacy, or perhaps gave a sense to the privacy imposed on me. . . . I never talked...


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