Beloved

I read a wide range of fiction, and occasionally like to challenge myself with a work that’s well outside my usual fare. Many times I rise to the challenge, and those experiences can be rewarding. Yet there are times when I find a work a little overwhelming; those experiences can be frustrating.

Unfortunately for me, Toni Morrison’s 1987 novel, which won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction that year, falls into the latter category.

The elements of a great story are all there — a band of unforgettable characters, a tense setting with a tragic history, and a supernatural being sowing chaos. When I step back from the prose and consider the individual elements of the novel, I’m very impressed with its scope.

The prose, however, is very dense, and the timeline is anything but linear. The text moves effortlessly between past and present, but the shifts happen with a frequency that is dizzying.

This isn’t a novel to be read; it’s a novel to be studied.

However, I feel the fault in this case is more on me than the work itself. I may not be able to appreciate its artistry, but I can at least acknowledge it. Some works are to weighty for me to enjoy, and “Beloved” is one of those works that is just too big for me.

Azure

The latest in my series of reviews of literary journals and genre magazines.

Founded in 2015, Azure publishes both online and print issues.

What They Say About Themselves:Lazuli Literary Group is a platform dedicated to fostering the delight of the literary imagination through a small publishing presswriting contests, and an online/print literary journalAZURE: A Journal of Literary Thought. We are a two-person editing team with diverging tastes (one classic and one contemporary) that harmonize in a third, uncharted space. We are particularly drawn to writing that broadens the concept of ‘literary’ to one that pulls from a global pedigree of storytelling technique. We seek authors who revel in the rhythmic possibilities of the poetic line, who contemplate the flavor, the shape, and the history of every word they use; who are so committed to the pyrotechnics of the written word that they comprehend the beauty of classical forms and yet feel compelled to constantly re-invent their craft. Our goal is to support underrepresented styles of writing, specifically within a genre that we imagined, which we call otherworld realism. We like work that generates an eclectic mix of literary, lyrical, experimental and witty reading experiences; as such, we publish works that may not be suited for mass consumption, due to their raw yet polished innovations in content and form. ​

otherworld realism
[uhth -er-wurld] [ree-uh-liz-uh m]
noun

  1. a style of literature devoted to intellectual and imaginative pursuits that point towards a potential, evolved reality.
  2. a genre that represents the known world in an elevated or defamiliarising way.
  3. art and literature that evokes the space before clarity in which one must navigate the logic of intuition and instinct, alongside the duplicity of fact.
  4. an approach illuminating a psychic space of process; a space of ambiguity, silence, and internal struggle.
  5. the pre-dawn.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume 5, Issue 2 (April 2021)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: Most issues feature only one short story, and for this issue that would be “The Looking Glass of Arthur Gordon Pym” by Frank Meola. The protagonist of Edgar Allan Poe’s novel “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” writes a first-person account of the true events of the tale.

Exploding HelicoptersOne Explosion. The emphasis is on florid writing over action.

Profanometer: Dammit. The language was pretty restrained.

A Brief Visit

PHOTO PROMPT © Miles Rost

After arguing with his parents again, Morton needed time away from their home. He drove to the state park where the 21-year-old often found peace.

His loose clothing dampened with summer sweat as he walked a wide path, built as a carriage trail for the wealthy. Morton took a turnoff leading to a suspension bridge.

He stopped half-way across the bridge and leaned his forearms against the coiled metal railing. A winged insect, seen only in summer’s heat, landed nearby.

“What’s up?” Morton asked. The insect flew away.

Morton turned from the bridge, beginning the journey back to his parents.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Day 436

Since we’re evidently about to throw out our masks and forget about social distancing, can we once and for all stop with the hygiene theater?

For almost a year now, scientists have largely agreed that the risk of contracting COVID from a contaminated contact surface is low. Fomites stopped being our enemy for some time, but the obsession with hand sanitizer, disposable wipes, and spraying countertops and doorknobs continues.

This morning was my third weekly trip to the gym, and I got on a treadmill that was two away from the only other in use at the time. Fifteen minutes into my run, some guy gets on the treadmill next to mine, despite there being several others available. He wasn’t wearing a mask, like I was, but he decides to wipe down every surface of the console before beginning his run.

In other words, he ignored the two proven methods to prevent transmission while opting to perform an action that has little effect. And it’s easy to see why, because his chosen defense, ineffective as it was, is the least inconvenient for him, involving the least bit of forethought or consideration. I think that’s why we continue to disinfect surfaces even though there’s no science to justify the activity. It’s a brief action that makes us feel like we’re doing something useful, gosh darn it.

At the grocery store where I work, cashiers wipe down the customer conveyor belt after each order. When I check out a book from the library, a janitor sprays the self-checkout monitor. I walked into a bank the other day, and a teller wiped down the counter as I left.

When the next flu outbreak happens, as early as this fall, I have no confidence in our ability to fight it. Most of us will ignore the lessons we were taught this past year.

***

Sorry for the pessimistic screed today. I’m angry, and sometimes it’s better to express that anger than let it fester. I’ll try to find something more positive to write about for next week’s entry in this ongoing journal.

LampLight

I avoid making qualitative judgements about the literary journals and genre magazines I use in my series of ongoing reviews, but I’ll make an exception this time — I really like this one.

LampLight is an independent quarterly magazine of dark fiction.

What They Say About Themselves: “We are a literary magazine of dark fiction, both short stories and flash fiction. We want your best. But then, doesn’t everyone? No specific sub-genres or themes, just good stories. For inspiration, we suggest “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits.”…

We go for stories that are dark, literary; we are looking for the creepy, the weird and the unsettling.”

Issue Reviewed: Volume 9, Issue 3 (April 2021)

Genre: Speculative fiction with a dark flavor

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: Several to choose from, but I’ll go with “Directions to Joe Langley’s House (And How to Avoid What Descends on Sunbeams,” by Victor Sweetser. While giving directions to his rural Alabama home, the first-person narrator warns the reader about mysterious and malevolent creatures who hunt humans during daylight and moonlight. A clever take on the quest story, in which the journey is far more interesting, and deadly, than the destination.

Exploding HelicoptersFour Explosions. Plenty of external threats in the stories, each of them combined with interior threats within the characters.

Profanometer: Gee Willikers. Not a single f-bomb in the entire issue! Further proof that you don’t have to use colorful language to display strong emotion or create suspense.

Delivery

PHOTO PROMPT © Na’ama Yehuda

Oleg wanted to remain in his bunk as the ship approached Ellis Island. This wasn’t the first time he’d arrived in the US through this port. Yet he knew not joining the ship’s excited occupants would arouse unwanted suspicion.

He stood on the deck apart from the crowd at the rails, staring towards shore through the dim light of a cloudy dawn.

“Mama!” a pointing child cried. “The statue!”

Oleg smiled. Later today, he’d be processed with forged papers. Once he cleared customs with the other immigrants, he could then deliver the package he’d been paid so well to convey.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest.

Day 431

In 13 days, I won’t have to wear a mask outside my home. Wish that news made me more joyful.

Following the Center for Disease Control’s revised guidance for vaccinated people, our state’s governor announced that COVID health orders will be lifted June 2.

The announcements seem sudden and dramatic. Yesterday we were told to keep on keepin’ on, and tomorrow we’re back to 2019.

Have I become too comfortable with the minor inconveniences of the pandemic? Am I upset at having to drive to writing groups and workshops? Perhaps. But I’m also thinking of a previous period of high optimism, one in which I shared.

I made a giddy projection sometime around June or July last year that the pandemic was nearing its end. New cases, hospitalizations, deaths — all the scary numbers were going down, and I expected the downward trend to continue. That didn’t work out well.

And yes, the vaccines have made a major difference. But there’s so many people who can’t or won’t get their shots. The coronavirus has also mutated, several times.

Perhaps my attitude will change in the next two weeks, but discarding my mask in public doesn’t seem right to me. An overreaction to the progress we’ve made the last few months.

I want to be wrong in my pessimism. But I also want us to get it right this time.

***

My wife and I have reserved condo time on Maui for December and January.

We haven’t bought plane tickets yet, in part because we recognize there’s plenty that can still go wrong between now and then. We usually book travel arrangements around September, and if the virus situation continues to improve by then we’ll likely decide to go, even if we have to wear masks on those long flights back and forth.

I also like to travel, by plane or car, to see my siblings in Maine during August. I’ve never been away from them this long, so I’m perhaps even more anxious for this trip.

Vacations have been one of the more minor casualties of COVID. One of the reasons I hope we’ve actually turned the corner now is to get back that part of my life.

Pursuit

PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

Three minutes. Swanson estimated the murderer would lose himself in that time.

The city’s Asian street market was a clot of shoppers and vendors. If the murderer slid down an arterial street, he’d escape.

The sidewalks were less crowded and navigable, but Swanson knew the murderer would likely avoid them. The detective began hustling down the sidewalk, eyes scanning the crowd, but stopped on noticing the fire escapes above him. He could view the entire crowd from there and locate his target. Swanson pushed past a man talking on a mobile phone and raced up a flight of concrete steps.

Friday Fictioneers is a weekly flash fiction contest

Day 422

My wife hasn’t received a vaccination card, and might not ever get one. And it’s all her fault for trying to be a good citizen.

At the end of last year she volunteered to participate in a clinical study for a COVID vaccine; we can’t disclose the manufacturer’s name. It’s called a double-blind study, in which each participant receives two pairs of shots. One pair is a placebo; the other is the actual vaccine. She received her first shot at the end of January, the second a month later. The second pair of shots began last month, and she’ll soon receive her fourth overall injection. Patients are asked to record their temperature daily and report any health issues. Her only reaction to the three shots she’s already received has been arm soreness.

She may have been inoculated in February. Or maybe she got the placebo and has yet to receive her second dose of the vaccine, meaning she won’t have developed antibodies until June.

The manufacturer may never tell her which pair of shots was the actual dose. And because this particular vaccine hasn’t been approved — it’s the reason for the study after all — she won’t be issued a vaccine card.

She’s heard many people dropped out of the study when they became eligible for an approved vaccine. I attempted to volunteer for the study in January, but didn’t receive any responses to my inquiries. Based on my wife’s experience, I’m glad it didn’t work out, because by now I would have joined the dropouts.

I’ve written before about my opposition to vaccine passports. If they truly inconvenienced the COVID deniers and anti-vaxxers, I’d be all for them. Yet I’m pretty sure the deadbeats will forge vaccination cards or find some other way to cheat the system, while those who’ve played by the rules — and those who’ve made sacrifices, like my wife — will be the ones who are punished.

Ginosko Literary Journal

Back in January 2020, I began reviewing literary journals and genre magazines once a week, with a break over the holidays. This is the latest in that series.

Ginosko Literary Journal is an independent periodical from California. First appearing in 2003, the journal now publishes two electronic issues per year.

What They Say About Themselves: From page 3 of issue 26:

ginosko
A Greek word meaning
to perceive, understand, realize, come to know;
knowledge that has an inception, a progress, an attainment.
The recognition of truth from experience.

γινώσκω

Issue Reviewed: Issue 26 (Spring 2021)

Genre: Literary realism

One Story I’ll Remember Not to Forget: “Small Town Summer,” by Ashley Pearson. An anonymous student in an Illinois college is forced to live and work in the town next to campus one summer when her father in California loses his job. She finds work at a desolate Dollar General store and discovers the uneasy relationship between the town and the college. The use of the second person narrative form was interesting, as the device reinforced the protagonist’s detachment from her environment.

Exploding HelicoptersOne Explosion. The stories are rich in setting and characterization without many plot complications.

Profanometer: Dammit. The stories I read featured no colorful language at all, although my search for four-letter words in the PDF version of the issue found a few hits.