by Rio Liang
I was delighted to receive my copy of the spring 2011 issue of the newly staffed “ZYZZYVA” in the mail, one of my favorite literary journals. Though Howard Junker will be missed, I’m looking forward to seeing new editor Laura Cogan’s vision further realized in issues to come.
Leticia del Toro’s “Piropo.” In order to support her child back in Mexico, Carolina disguises herself as Carlos so she can work as a day laborer with her brother Vicente and no-good husband Joaquin. Her utilitarian transvestism does a number on Joaquin’s attraction for her, and he becomes even more of a frustrating partner, both relationship- and business-wise. Before, he would sing songs to Carolina’s former more fiery self (her father used to liken her to a wolf for all her fight; she was once accustomed to “piropos” or flirtatious compliments from men). But Joaquin’s eyes constantly stray, this time set on the blonde wife of a man who’d recently hired the crew; he showers her with song, the piropos once geared toward Carolina. Our narrator’s reaction to this is such a punchline moment, very funny; it’s the moment she regains some of that fire. Interesting first publication by the author.
Pamela Rivas’s “Son of The General.” A story about fathers and sons and the bridges between them, told by an unnamed narrator who while vacationing meets an old friend of her husband’s, the son of a general from a Central American country (whose brutal regime is American-backed). El General’s parenting was akin to his governance (ruthless), leading his son to escape his grip. But the sins of the father are visited upon the son, as The General’s son enacts the same distance with his own son. The story’s most memorable moment is the revelation of a disturbing dream in which The General’s son tries desperately to rescue his son from the tide but can never find his own among the multitude of babies washing ashore. It’s a dream made resonant when in the story’s present time, the narrator’s husband rescues a drowning boy from the hotel pool, an act of heroism for which the boy’s father never thanks him–an ungratefulness The General’s son cannot blame. A nice ending further bolstered by the last lines: “With his palms face up, the setting sun rests in his hands then slides through his fingers. Like molten lava, the sun burns into the horizon.”
Tom Barbash’s “How to Fall.” Amanda drags newly single Jen to a singles ski vacation. But still reeling from her breakup, Jen can’t help but be a wet blanket during what is supposed to be a fun trip. To better understand the scope of her loss: She is someone who on one occasion had come unglued after a short-term abandonment, madly searching the streets for her then partner, Mitchell, who had merely stepped out briefly. Enter Roland, a lawyer she meets at the singles trip, who once used to ski race before an accident had left him in a week-long coma. He seems promising as a replacement for Mitchell, but any happiness Jen feels is just a mirage, as she still feels like she’s missing something. The story’s beauty lies in its ending, as we see Jen and Roland seemingly happily sledding in the snow, and she tries to convince herself she’ll truly be content with Roland by “breaking” herself (either a literal or a figurative self-harm) and starting anew, the way Roland had a renewed outlook on life after rehabbing from his ski accident. A definite recommend from me.
Vanessa Hua’s “The Third Daughter.” An excerpt from the author’s novel, “Without Heaven.” It’s 1976, and the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown are littered with people celebrating the death of Mao Zedong. Amid the fireworks, our narrator, a 27-year-old waitress, the third daughter in her family, recalls her time in China as an idealist who believed in the Chairman’s words and who was eager to step up as the next female hero of China. The story then dips back to 1976 at the restaurant, where nearing closing time, a gangster named Shrimp Boy and a reporter named Trapper dine. I’m intrigued to see where the story will go, especially with these two men. Both seem destined to further touch the narrator’s life; and it’s interesting how the former tips her $20, the latter $10, perhaps setting up further contrasts between them.
Erika Recordon’s “Evolution.” A homecoming story with a twist, taking generational gaps to the extreme. Our narrator makes her yearly visit to her father–back in prehistoric times–a visit complete with the traditional ram-hunting with Pops, and a caveman party. It’s absurd (“My father is a cave man”), funny (“…it’s hard to explain corporate takeovers to a man with no language”; “Tools are a new thing this year”), and sad (her father draws cave paintings of her mother, trampled by a mastodon). The last line–“All those stars, I think. And not one of them knows that they’re already dead”–is so startlingly morose; a beautiful ending line to contrast the fun absurdity of the piece.
Erika Recordon’s “Our Brave Little Soldiers.” A bizarre and funny allegory of sending our children–babies, literally–off to war. It’s war time, and the narrator and his companion Maria attend a costume party in which everyone is dressed as prisoners (they glom onto one attendee in particular dressed as Nelson Mandela–ha!). The story unfolds in a dream-like sequence, where one thing leads absurdly to another, in a seemingly natural manner. And so, when “the enemy” of the state threatens to destroy the country from its infants on up, Maria finds babies in a soda bottle cap, which they summarily dress in combat gear. They see them off not with tears but the too chipper and empty calls for them to “Be brave” and “Good luck!” (As if the kids were only off to school or some new childhood experience). Simple as that, the children are sent to war, with no one truly understanding the gravity of that act.
In addition to the fiction pieces covered above, the issue also features nonfiction by Stephen Elliott, John Felstiner, and Paula Priamos; poetry by Carl Adamshick, Matthew Dickman, Robin Ekiss, Jose Garcia, Kate Martin Rowe, David Meltzer, Aaron Shurin, and Eugenia Toledo; and art by Steven Barich, Martha Chong, Colin Christy, Kevin Clarke, Matthew Draving, Chris Fraser, Farley Gwazda, Kristi Holohan, Zach Houston, Lance Jackson, Bessma Khalaf, George Pfau, Dianne Romaine, Naaman Rosen, Ryan Smith, Joseph Smolinski, and Michael Steffen; as well as gorgeous cover art by Richard Misrach. Get your copy now if you haven’t already.