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Foreword In her exquisite story in this issue, "The Pleasure of Pears," Patricia Henley's astute protagonist reflects that "we arrive where we are by mating." But if life trajectories are determined by whom we're with, when it comes to the deep-down core of one's identity, it seems to me that whom or what one squares off against is even more decisive. Take Matt, for example, in the wonderfully comic "Sabbath Night in the Church of the Piranha." Edward Falco's protagonist comes off as a noncharacter because he doesn't align himself against anything; he'd rather withdraw into the world of his inventions than participate in the combat of social and family life. It's no surprise, then, that he's a successful inventor but a personal near-flop. His son, Chris, on the other hand, is a living, breathing teenager—tilting at windmills, maybe (what teenager doesn't?), but that very tilting defines him. Chris has issues with everything from his own name, and his father's, to the Christian church. The end of the story sees Matt considering his son's criticism of his passiveness, imagining himself as a "skeleton man," then shaking off the vision and going up to bed. So when was the last tune you squared off against someone? Remember the apprehension? And the glorious adrenaline rush? This issue is full ofwriting about people squaring off, so there's some ofthat preliminary fear in many of the selections, and the concomitant exhUaration , and a sense, in most of them, of people discovering, establishing , reaffirming, defending their selves. In our interview, John Updike describes the "creamy" sensation his alterego, the aging novelist Bech, has in the "quasinovel" Bech at Bay when he starts killing off his critics. As Updike observes, Bech is fighting for his life in a sense. At the very least, he's fighting for his stature in the literary world. There's a lot of fighting for life or turf in these pages. DanieUe Ofri's hard-hitting medical essay is the story of a literal fight against death, juxtaposed with her report on it at Morbidity and MortaUty rounds. At the same time, it relates the struggle of Ofri and other residents at a private hospital to be considered as competent coUeagues by the attending physicians. Ofri's statement that following her M & M report she wanted "to disembowel someone" is the final candid summation in a brutally honest piece of nonfiction. Michele Morano's essay, "About Wayne," is the account of a dispute with her mother over her right to receive some disturbingly graphic "love" notes from a neighbor boy. It's quintessential female experience, though the family situation Morano describes is hardly typical. Poet Katharine Whitcomb writes of emotionally pitting herself against the voice of her estranged husband on her answering machine: "I push my hands/deeper into my pockets and stand there listening /repeating: not now, notyou." Amy Quan Barry's strident verse rails against the violence done to innocent Vietnamese during the war, while Jane Wampler writes in a more conceptual vein of a time when she began to position herself against the unbearable tragedies of life: "I was training/In the art of arguing with the irrevocable." And our feature in this issue, unpublished correspondence from Jack London to his friend and emotional "father," Charles Warren Stoddard, casts light on the struggle of men, both straight and gay, to find male companionship and of homosexuals in nineteenth-century America to legitimize their sexuality. I'm pleased to note that we're again bringing you a real mix of established names and newcomers. John Updike's congenial interview is full of wisdom and interesting anecdote, and National Book Award finalist Patricia Henley's story is as gorgeously written as they come. But don't miss Joanna Fried's truly eccentric "Trip," her first story publication . Or Steve Almond's hip "Geek Player, Love Slayer." Or Leslie Wootten's surreal yet moving "Eva's Breasts," another first story. Or anything else in this confrontational issue. ES ...


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pp. 5-6
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