I think sometimes people don't believe me when I say that Irreantum is one of my two favorite literary rags; I can understand this --- after all, I'm a big booster of Mormon letters so it makes sense that I would want people to engage either way. But I'm not lying. Irreantum is, to the best of my knowledge, one of the two best literary journals going (I'm only talking about fiction here, by the way; other forms are necessarily secondary in my mind) (and the other of the two, incidentally, is One Story) (though it's been slipping lately and Irreantum, as we shall see, is getting better).
Three stories in this issue. Let's talk about them in pager order, which also happens to be the ascending order of excellence.
A Confession by Lisa Madsen Rubilar
- Although my weariness for rural Utah fiction remains officially in place, two stories this issue made me forgiven them that sin, this being the first. A man, nearing death, commits to paper a defining series of events earlier in his life, in which a man he loved stole irrigation water from him and in which he saw an angel. I'll admit that part of the reason I originally conceived of an angel story myself was because of discussions (one example) that challenged me to do so. Because angel stories often suck. But this one did not. It was complex and uncertain and the main character never quite knew what the angel's appearance meant. Which makes angels like real life. Which means angels can be part of real life. Which is part of the Mormon challenge.
When We Remembered Zion by Thom Duncan
- Like angel stories, Second Coming stories can, as a general rule, be assumed to suck. And while Duncan's story could be accused of sidestepping some of the most challenging tropes of the genre (Where, for instance, is Jesus?), he doesn't make any missteps when it comes to the story he is trying to tell. We're back in rural Utah, this time postapocalypse. A small band of Saints is alone and abandoned by the rest of the world (though that may be all for the better, given the violence of the past) when the hierarchy starts breaking down. A barely pubescent boy and girl fall in love while their mothers experience something called the Vision. The story dips into magic realism in subtle and appropriate ways and left me with a feeling of dizzy delight. One recommendation, when you get to the final page, be sure to cover the last line with your hand to keep from accidentally reading it before arriving there. Because as charmed as I was with the story, I was absolutely left weak by the utterly perfect last line. Don't miss it.
The Man and His Wife by Lon Young
- This is Young's first published fiction and a couple moments of awkwardness in handling the diary entries and the movie memories are in play. But ultimately, those minor slips do not register because the story is absolutely astonishing --- one of my favorites in recent memory. Rarely have I seen such blatant symbolism handled with such subtlety and simplicity. Young clearly trusts his readers. Plus, it was nice to see nudity used as a positive symbol for a change. Hoo. I can feel my heart speeding up (not because of the nudity). I'm just so excited about the story told here. I've not heard this deliriously Mormon story told before but I suspect that everyone who does read it will have a hard time not writing their own imitation. It's just that bright and shiny and original. Beautiful stuff.
I have about forty more pages to read, but that's it for the fiction. I've read three of the essays (one engages is absolutely every technique that has made me sick of creative nonfiction, one is brilliant, and one is really good) and I've read the poetry (I didn't get Papworth's or Eggertsen's, but quite liked Babcock's and Chadwick's).
If I have anything else to say as I continue to read, I'll add it to the comments.
Oh. And nice cover, by the way. I didn't scan it, but here's an ittybitty rendition from their website. Click to subscribe. (That's an order.)