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Foreword Evelyn Somers discovered Sue Hubbell's "The Web" in the manuscript of Hubbell's upcoming book Waiting for Aphrodite (soon to be published by Houghton Mifflin). Arachnophobes beware; Hubbell discusses spiders and their designs at some length. But the real subject of the essay is our science of naming the web of life forms—taxonomy. We have all heard anecdotes of misnaming—and thus misunderstanding —living things, but have you ever wondered how common such mistakes are and by what process they are corrected? According to Hubbell, this basic area of biology is more mutable than one might expect. One eminent taxonomist says that the definitions of only about one-sixth of the known species in the world will hold up under informed scrutiny, and estimates of numbers of unnamed species are huge. The science itselfhas undergone a revolution over the last fifty years as the old Linnaean system has been replaced by a procedure called "phylogenetic systematics." Read on for an experience with the most natural of American nature writers. Many of the pieces in this issue, as it turns out, have to do with a kind of taxonomy among people, especially with those plagued in some way by the concept of normalcy. They aren't normal, or somebody in their family isn't normal, or their whole life isn't normal. Some of the individuals in these pages are a bit odd, but to quote the old truism: What's "normal"? Interestingly, none of these "misfits" or complainers about misfits whines—or if they do, they whine hilariously, like Nicola Mason's fifteen-year-old protagonist in "Whammy." This young lady is suffering anxiety about, shall we say, a medical problem (again, read on). Laura Yeager's "Having Anne" is a deadpan but often equally funny story about a manic-depressive woman who gives up her Lithium to have a baby (whoever needed a sitter before the birth?). "The Hairy Little Girl," by Pamela Ward, is about cherishing difference while at the same time having to deal with others' expectations about normalcy. Oliver Broudy's "Casting a Circle" is about a group of eccentrics whose oddness binds them together, while J. Robert Lennon's intriguing "Smoking Is Cool," set in the murky city night life, is about a young man's romance with a mysterious lady while he is working with her on an unusual night job. Frederick Busch's "The Talking Cure" is told by an intelligent teenager who feels, like many people his age, that he is the odd one out in his family. He has summer work with a man who seems intent upon boring him to death with "lessons" about life. Why, he wonders, is he being subjected to this terminal avuncularism? Jane Smiley, one of the best authors to have emerged in the '90s, is herself an oddity in the taxonomy of writers. Few novelists have succeeded so well in as many different types of novels. Within the last few years, Smiley has proven to be amazingly versatile in subject matter and mood, moving from tragedy.to satire to historical adventure . Her first big book, A Thousand Acres, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, was a retelling of King Lear set in Iowa—the tale of three daughters who are treated as a single possession by an insensitive and powerful father. Smiley's novel Moo (1995), set at a Midwestern university remarkably like Iowa State, where Smiley taught, is a farcical satire, the standard mood and mode of novels about university life. Moo happily skewers various academic types—sycophants, grant hogs, the worthless and the self-important. In her most recent novel, The AllTrue Travels and Adventures ofLidie Newton (1998), Smiley takes another turn, this time with a freewheeling historical adventure set during the ugly ten-year war in bleeding Kansas and Missouri. Her intrepid heroine, Lidie Newton, sets out to homestead in Kansas with her new husband, and when he is murdered, she disguises herself as a man and rides off to Missouri in search of his killers. In this issue's interview, Smiley stresses the playful side of art, the delight writers feel in "playing around with form and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 5-8
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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