by Rio Liang
Three very good stories in the just released Spring 2011 Issue of “Carve Magazine,” which is available here. Enjoy the pieces! (Though be forewarned it might be hard reading the white text on the otherwise cool Swedish flag color scheme they have going on in this issue).
Judith Slater’s “The Time of Plenty.” At a small town in Oregon during the presidential election of 1960, we follow a family–the only Democrats in the crowd–at an election party for a family friend, a Republican running for their city’s mayor. Our eyes are those of the daughter, 13-year-old Lizzie, who never once utters a word of dialogue; she merely floats throughout as an invisible observer-narrator. Which suits the story just right, as the other characters truly become the focus, both through what they say (often really loudly or obnoxiously, especially in the case of mayoral candidate Paul Brashler) and what they don’t (as is the case with Lizzie’s parents, Irene and Matt). Lizzie’s family lives just down the hill from the Brashleys, and she both literally and figuratively looks up to them (“The Brashlers were as much a part of the night world as the constellations, as familiar and as mysterious”). She specifically admires Helen, Paul’s wife, whom she finds the epitome of grace, a la Jackie Kennedy. Lizzie’s own mother is style-less, her father inarticulate; she is lacking. There is no “intensity” (such as that which her father was “a great believer in”) in their family–there is a disconnectedness within their unit–so she searches for that intensity elsewhere. It turns out Helen herself, much like Lizzie, has her own longings for “something else.” Just as she had once chosen Paul over a former fiance, something better seems to always come along; she showcases attraction for Lizzie’s father, and we find out she crossed party lines and voted for JFK (a nice reveal in the end; and what better way by the way to delineate the concept of other sides and their contrasts than with party affiliations). The ending of the story is a welcome one: Lizzie at home watching a Paul the winner of the mayoral election on TV, once again on the other side, disconnected. This comes highly recommended from me.
Frances Clow’s “Here/Now.” Funny and bittersweet story about a breakup between a woman (our narrator) and the man she is destined to be with (or so a mysterious lady from the Caribbean tells her). The writing here is clipped, rhythmic, and simple, creating through the repetitiousness a sense of routine or mundanity; the narrator has settled into this life, into believing her destiny. Two particularly effective passages are the one in which Ms Clow overuses the word “sponge” for effect, as well as the “Who would believe” paragraph later in the story. (Though the execution of this is not always flawless; I wondered at times at the inclusion of mundane details here and there). I particularly liked the flashes forwards and backwards in time from our narrator in 2007 (the end of the relationship) then in 2005 (the start of the relationship), to her at age 7, in high school at 17, and in college at 19. I am reminded of the structure of the film “(500) Days of Summer” and its deconstructed chronology. Such a narrative layout can be dizzying and potentially confusing, but it does make for more excitement in the reading. Overall a good story that makes you wonder at what point “destiny,” if such a thing exists, can get fudged–if a green-eyed guy in a blue and yellow shirt (nice tie-in by the way to the Quinn Franklin photo and color scheme for the spring issue) may be force-fitted into the role of Mr. Right.
Melanie Kokolios’s “Schadenfreude.” Metafictive pieces can be tricky, often giving the impression of being throw-away; metafictive stories told in the second person especially can be doubly so. But with this story, an observation of the/a reader as s/he is reading a story, Ms Kokolios does a good job of sustaining her story (and our interest), keeping it always at arm’s length from frivolity. The second-person can often be intrusive, foisting a role onto the reader that is often unwelcome; but in this story “you” is used more innocuously in the hypothetical (“If you were in this situation,” etc.). I particularly like the ending; the reader moves on, while the characters s/he has just read about are suspended in time at the story’s conclusion. Stories can illustrate for us tragedies we might find intriguing from a distance (that is, we wouldn’t necessarily want to live through them), hence the story’s title. Though there’s of course an irony here in that the reader has been made in the process into a character (Ah, metafiction!). Also, by story’s end, the reader comes to mirror the grieving mother of Ms Kokolios’s story: Her son has been taken away from her forever, at too young an age–a reflection of the distance now between the reader and the characters s/he has made a connection with in a short span of time.