Ploughshares 40.1
(Spring 2014)


So, yeah, I'm definitely not reading these in order. But I have finally figured out where to read them (some things get read walking to work, some in bed, some on the toilet---ends up Ploughshares is one of the latter) so I may get through all the ones hanging around. However, this issue is pretty much everything I hinted at not liking last time. The big problem with the fiction in this issue is stories that do not end. The first story, for instance, "The Rink Girl" by Mark Brazaitis. It's brilliantly written---beautiful stuff, really. The teenagers, their relationships, their inner and outer lives. The plot is understated but compelling and important---to the characters and thus to us, the readers. And then? At the end? Instead of completing the story, Brazaitis cops out. He's like, "Hhhhhh! This is taking forever! Here, hang on. [rustling in bag] Here. Have a symbol."

I'm going to skip most of the stories and stick with the ones like "Rink Girl" that have frittered merit.

Next up, "The Sky in the Glass-Topped Table" which uses as its title an unimportant image. Another well crafted teenage lead. This time her story ends with an awful violence perpetrated against her which instantly becomes a huh!-type learning experience. Author Elizabeth Evans seems to want to show off a Troma-esque disinterest in the consequences of evil. Well. Lovely.

The most successful story in the issue was "Go-Between" by Peter Rock. This one too, arguably, ends prematurely and this one too, arguably, underserves life's unpleasantness, but its dreamlike atmosphere and unclear connection to the real makes these issues immaterial. This one too is about teenagers. Which I find remarkable---the best works in the last issue I read were also about teenagers. I wonder what the explanation is.

Anyway, that pattern is broken by the fourth story in this issue with merits enough to mention, Donna Trump's "Seizure." This story's about a man whose life and body have fallen apart, and how he attempts to remain, at very least, an involved and loving father. It's quite moving. Parts of it were genuinely painful to imagine. You can read the guest editor's comments here (and get a sense as to why she doesn't let stories end properly). I think my dissatisfaction with this story might not be the story's fault. In this case, it might be my adoption of the protag's own dissatisfaction with himself.

Anyway, this is a grumpy post. And will probably get me some hate from the literati. I mean---don't I know that all these stories I claim to like and yet still bash have more beautiful sentences than almost everything published in the most recent issue of Pulp Literature, which I just praised? Sure I do. And a couple of the stories I praised in that post could have benefited from more beautiful sentences. (Though I rush to point out that I'm not saying those stories had bad sentences. Just that, see my own next sentence.) What I'm saying is that beautiful sentences are not enough. A story needs to be completely a story. I'm not satisfied by beautiful pieces alone. What am I? A serial killer?

Anyway. I still have more issues to catch up on. I hope to say more positive things in the future.

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