I've had the latest issue for months. Weirdly, the first thing I did was read all the essays. I never do that. Yet when I came to a story, I would skip it. Why? I don't know. I was just in to the essays. I liked the reviews, I dug the critical essays, the personal essays were okay (except for Patrick Madden's; I've had it with that guy; most smarmy essayist ever).
Perhaps the reason I took so long to start on the fiction was that the first story in the issue was Orson Scott Card's "The Elephants of Poznan" which I had just read in his new collection. In fact, I still haven't reread the entire thing, but that's not because it ain't good. It's probably my favorite scifi Adam and Eve to date. And I've read more than a few, let me tell you.
The reason, after finally starting the fiction, that it took me so long to finish was because I couldn't take a deep enough breath to start another Darin Cozzens story. I've now read three stories of his and they've all been good. Not great, but he's talented at putting words together and there is nothing "wrong" with his stories. In fact, I've been treating my aversion to him as something akin to a psychosis on my own part. My favorite work of his (the one that appears in Dispensation) involves someone who is breaking free of his current situation. My least favorite (from a previous issue of Irreantum) involves characters going nowhere. In the middle we have this story which, like the previous two, concerns rural Mormons.
I have a strong connection to rural Mormoniana myself. And I'm wondering if my issue with Cozzens is much like that a child of immigrants might experience, embarrassed of their parents fobby accents.
This story, "The Treading of Lesser Cattle," is about a woman --- 69 years old, if my math is right --- in the process of waking up one morning (a nice twist on the it-was-only-a-dream thing) and reviewing her life to date. The writing, in aping the dreamstate, sometimes gets clunky, but overall the whole thing is quite successful. And the fact that I spent most of the story mourning that she married the rancher is was got me on the self-analysis kick. But the ending was sweet and honest and true, no matter what my own biases might prefer.
The big story this issue must be Larry Menlove's "The Path of Antelope, Pelican, and Moon" which took the AML award this year. Sigh.
Don't get me wrong. It was a well written story and I loved that it pushed the realms of proper reality via visionary Navajos. Really, the story was fine. My main issue comes from the fact that I am currently readingThe Fast Red Road: A Plainsong by Stephen Graham Jones --- a novel that takes the visionary Injun thing so far that I can never dip into anything mildly magicalrealismy again without thinking about Jones's book and thinking huh, well, it's nothing like that plainsong. So perhaps I am unfairly biased on this one as well.
Let's move on to "Cheddar." The author, joshua foster [sic], has been on my mind since he and I were the only two fictionists to ever be featured in Dialogue Paperless. I've read a few of his stories since then but this one is my favorite. A drifter feels remorse after robbing a poor Rexburg couple. Having now read Dispensation I know that this story is even more solidly in the traditional Mormon literary tradition than I at first realized, but I don't like it any less for that.
The remaining bit of fiction, and by far my favorite, is the excerpt from Charmayne Gubler Warnock's Nightshade. Perhaps this is a new tradition in the making, but this mix of mental illness and devils is terrific --- perhaps not as good as Jack Harrell's "Calling and Election", but it is utterly unfair to compare them. They could hardly be more different, even if they do both touch on mental illness and devils. Also, this is just a clip from a longer work. Which longer work I am anxious to read. Everyone help me in pressuring Warnock to finish it up.
So how did this issue compare to the last couple? The average quality is high, but the total quantity is low. But the rest of the issue made up for the paucity of fiction. The photographs were great..... I'll tell you this: I'm keeping my subscription and I'm anxious for another issue to arrive in the mail. Giving them my money is the highest vote of confidence I can give.