Like my buddy William, "I want access to short stories written for the Mormon market", which is why I recently renewed my subscription to Irreantum. I had grown disgusted with it in the past --- largely because it didn't publish enough fiction (and that they did publish I didn't much like), but enough good things were being said about it now that I figured it was time to give it another chance.
I received my issue late, but it came and I dove in and I've decided to review the fiction (since that's what I'm subscribing for). Here goes:
Calling and Election by Jack Harrell
- And boy are we off to a good start! This is one of the finest short stories I've read in some time. If it wasn't for recently reading the Petersen collection, I would probably say without hiccupping that it is without question the finest purely Mormon short story I've ever read. This alone is worth the price of admission (only $10!). You must read this story.
But then, they made it available for free online. But you should still buy a copy anyway for moral support.
This Afternoon by Wayne Jorgensen
- This was a good adultery story. And an unusual one. No sex. No certain promise of sex. No past sex. It's just an interesting character study and although there isn't much new here, it a well made new perspective on an old story.
Reap in Mercy by Darin Cozzens
- I don't think I've had cause to mention it, but I am sick of stories about rural Utah. Just sick of them. And while this one was almost quite good (the ending didn't quite stick), I still can't like it.
It's another rural Utah story. I'm sure you have genres that annoy you as well. It's why I never seriously considered reading Jack Harrell's Vernal Promises. (Although now that I know he's a freakin' awesome writer, I may have to reconsider.) And why I'm leery of Rift, by one of my favorite Mormon writers. (But then, that one's "going" to be "published" by Zarahemla, so who knows if I'll ever even have to make that decision.)
Anyway, "Reap in Mercy" is effective storytelling. But in rural Utah. Consider yourself warned.
Salt Water by Arianne Cope
- I kept trying to like this story. I really did. I can tell you freshman comp students would love this story. Because it can't go two and a half sentences without punching you in the face with a symbol.
This story has no bad ideas. What it has is way way way too many ideas. Way too many. You can't have this many quirks in a "serious" work of literature this length. I was just telling Lady Steed about this story, listing all the strange things, and it read like parody. But I didn't mention anything that was not really in the story. But seriously. How long was that rock in his mouth?
This story reminds us that a) even really good writers need to know when to say when and b) Jonathan Safran Foer sucks.
It's sad, because this story also made me believe that Sister Cope here has the potential to write excellent work. Although I'm more nervous, I am also more hopeful that her The Coming of Elijah may be excellent. Anyone want to send me a copy?
Speculations: Trees by William Morris
- From before I read William's liner notes:
The risky part of doing this, of course, is what if I don't like something. I'm constrained to honest, right? And even worse, what if I don't like what was written by someone I'm quite certain will read it? And who, you know, I like? So, happily, this was good.
I'm not sure how to describe it without making it sound like another overwrought postmodern monstrosity, but the point is, as I said above, there is nothing wrong with hypermodern works. It's all in the final result. And this result is good.
Sure, I have a couple word choices to quibble with, but this set of five vignettes (not over-obviously related), work well together and create a satisfying whole. Which is hard to do as anyone whose read many vignette-collecting short stories can tell you.
From after I read William's liner notes:
Holy smokes, Wm --- I'm not sure it's allowed for the notes to be longer than the story. Gee whiz.
I caught the bulk of the references you cite and, if you're interested, my favorite was V; its strength at the end it what makes the whole series thrive. My least favorite was IV (although I also found II a little perplexing --- mostly because I didn't catch that this was That Specific Fig Tree). I thought III was the most thought-provoking and sneaky (sneaky in a good way). And I didn't work as well as it could have since I had to look up what a quince is. Although knowing now about bletting makes it all the better.
(For what it's worth.)
Gypsy Holiday by Kristin Carson
- This story played me well. I have the same sort of "gypsy" anxieties as the protagonist; how does one make friends when, even at my most stable, I view myself as unattached to one local?
"Gypsy Holiday" is the sort of story it's easy not to like --- fiction about regular people's regular lives can be difficult to justify. But this one goes deeper and deeper and avoids cliché and is just terrific.
My sole complaint is with the ending. Its concept is fine and the execution above average, but, after the last sentence closes, the reader asks Why? and that's not the right way to end a story, wondering why the author made a stylistic choice --- it's just distracting. And particularly so because the penultimate portion had raised the stakes and my expectations.
So the ending was odd, but not so off as to ruin and excellent piece of fiction.
Cause by Mark Brown
- In a normal issue of a typical literary rag, "Cause" would have been easily the best story on display. That "Calling and Election" is still superior speaks to the quality of Irreantum's fiction this issue.
"Cause" finds its genesis in a small Idaho town when a volcano of snakes erupts near the high school. If this sounds impossible it must be because you missed this excellent nonfiction read which includes the truth that masses of snakes pouring from the earth is not that impossible. Not at all, in fact.
But still unsettling.
And the manner in which the breathing characters in "Cause" react to this event is what great fiction is made of. This is a terrific story and you should pick it up.
Subscribe today! And then tell them to keep up their current level of fiction. High-quality short fiction is always needed, but not always published. Here's to hoping Irreantum current issue is a sign of things to come. And to keep coming. And keep coming. For a long long time.