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Posted Nov 2, 2003

The Powhatan Review

Volume 3 Number 3

Summer 2003

If minimalism had a role model in format, it would be Pawhatan Review, which only adds to the surprise and delight readers will discover in the depth and complexity of content. The magnet for me in this saddle-stitched format was the centerpiece: a b/w photograph by Mark Artkinson entitled “Vermont girls, summer at the beach,” which perfectly and preciously captures two distinct inner workings of young feminine psyche. The review promotes its content as “the ‘truth’ in details of real lives and hard won experience,” and this is apparent in the poems who titles alone speak these hard won truths: “Like a Beaten Rug” – “Love Letter to a Woman I Work With” – “Beside the Bed” – and “Onion, Dear.” My favorite among the dozen or so verse pieces was undoubtedly “Bones Lonely” by Don Winter which begins: “Some nights , I wake with longing / for nothing I can name.” And of the three stories, “Bananas” by Eugene M. McAvoy stole my heart with his depiction of Grandma and ‘nilla wafers and little Eugene stealing bananas because he was “hungry in the head.” For writers and artists as well as readers, this little book is worth a big, long look. [The Powhatan Review, 4936 Farrington Drive, Virginia Beach, VA 23455. E-mail: Single issue $3.00. ] - DH


River City

“Ill Will”

Volume 23 Number 1

Winter 2003

Easily one of the handsomest literary journals, River City delivers a provocative array of short fiction, poetry, and full color art. With a glossy cover picturing the back of a nude male bound from head to foot in heavy chains, this “Ill Will” issue immediately sets the reader up for an edgy ride. The short stories here are mostly concerned with the self-immolating, the transient, and the otherwise marginal characters peopling the terrain just outside of conventional bourgeois life. The two finest stories, “Suspension” by Morgan McDermott, and “Nebulous” by Molly Fitzsimmons, while wonderfully divergent in style, have in common a big-hearted concern for the masochistic tendencies of their fractured protagonists.

Ben Bloch’s disturbing story, “Inside Out” focuses on a lonely high-schooler addicted to scarification, yet manages to conclude on a surprisingly transcendent note. And Benjamin Swire’s “Al Capone Taught My Grandma To Swim” affords the reader a jubilant foray into gangster-era Chicago and the bizarre menagerie of a traveling Vaudeville company, which includes twelve-year-old June, a throaty baritone singer who endears herself to Big Al himself at a hotel swimming pool.

Though this particular issue has a few too many distracting typos, River City’s mix of fiction is provocative, baffling, and always surprising. [River City, The University of Memphis, Memphis, TN, 38152. E-mail: Single issue $7.00. ] - MC


Night Train

Number 2


Lovers of the short story will cherish Night Train. Save a fascinating biographical essay on the late Richard Yates, this issue is entirely fiction. Kerry Jones’ “Rescue Effort” is a stunning opener. Using the second-person perspective, she eerily evokes her character’s haunted emotional state: “You watched him go, still loving him as his back drifted farther and farther away . . . and while something inside of you said you’d never be fine again, somehow that was all right.” And the stories only intensify after this masterful start, creating a veritable showcase of work rich in grace and humanity—and poetics too.

The Night Train editors don’t shy away from fiction with an experimental edge, yet explorative tendencies are balanced throughout by a fidelity to narrative, character, and language that is emotionally and representationally exact. Only two pieces falter here—one teetering toward self-indulgence, the other bogged down by implausibility. But Night Train seems to have ten hearts where many lit mags have one. As a final touch, contributors’ notes at the back of the journal come complete with authors’ accounts of each story’s genesis, offering an intriguing coda for every piece. Night Train serves up an evocative journey for anybody seeking powerful image and irresistible narratives. [Night Train, 85 Orchard Street, Somerville, MA 02144. E-mail: Single issue $9.95.] - MC


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