Magazine Reviews

Find literary magazine reviews on the NewPages Blog. These reviews include single literary pieces and an issue of a literary magazine as a whole.

Eulogy for a Father

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

At a time when I felt incredibly alone, Ira Sukrungruang kept me company with his collection of essays, Buddha’s Dog: & Other Meditations. I stayed up all night reading it, telling myself I’d just read one more essay and then sleep and before I knew it, the book was finished and dawn was right around the corner. So now when I again feel those nagging feelings of loneliness, I was excited to see he had a new nonfiction piece in the Spring 2020 issue of Crazyhorse to help fill in the spaces around me: “Eulogy for My Father.”

This eulogy is written in short, one-sentence paragraphs that rapidly fall down the sixteen pages they occupy. “Let me start again,” he repeatedly states and follows another thread as he sorts the complicated thoughts and feelings surrounding the relationship he had with his father, his father’s absence, and the ways in which these feelings now echo over his relationship with his son.

The piece is honest and tender, bringing tears to my eyes by the time I reached the end and his final “restart.” It was nice seeing Sukrungruang once again show off his mastery of the nonfiction form. Even sitting with his grief, it was also nice to feel close to something for the moment.

Finding Relief in Anne Kilfoyle’s Fiction

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

In the early days of lockdown, I had friends comment to me that they felt almost a sense of relief. Despite the tragedies reported in the news and the uncertainty of the new world we found ourselves in, they felt like they were able to breathe for the first time—to spend days resting or creating or getting personal work done or fully focusing on their families, none of which they were able to accomplish during the busyness of everyday life.

In the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Salamander, Anne Kilfoyle’s story “Double-Yolked” reminded me of those conversations and feelings. As narrator Keera and her husband Jesse prepare for an emergency evacuation following an unnamed global threat, she reflects:

The last three days have been good days, some of the best. We have been holding our breath but also our problems got smaller. [ . . . ] Our biggest fear wasn’t mass annihilation, it was that we’d have to go back to how things were, back to our jobs and our lives [ . . . ].

Despite their lack of preparation, she feels okay with what’s coming to them, feels capable knowing they have each other, now somehow stronger together, as they move forward.

The short piece is relatable and timely: empty store shelves, last minute orders from Amazon in an attempt to ease the new worries, the uncertainty that surrounds them, and that strange relief of being released from normal life. It can be difficult to read disaster-themed writing while living through a similar situation, but Kilfoyle manages to cover the topic in a way that’s casual and comforting without adding to the current, similar stresses.

They the Mothers

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

From Issue 38 of Bellevue Literary Review, Kathi Hansen’s “We the Mothers” (honorable mention in the 2020 BLR Prize) imagines the mothers of boys who have been accused of sexual assault. They meet together in book-club-like fashion, able to speak freely with one another when no one else understands.

Hansen writes of them in a collective. They speak of their sons as one being as they look back to their childhoods, their teenage years, and the ways their boys were raised in their homes. Only when one woman begins to question her son’s innocence does the story diverge, separating her from the rest of the group, finally naming her apart from the others. I found this to be a cool, well done device for this piece, and a unique point of view to have on these now familiar stories.

Despite focusing on this side of the story, Hansen does a good job of avoiding too much sentimentality. The mothers tell their collective story without demanding understanding or sympathy from the reader. After all, as they point out, only those in their group can truly understand.

Take a Walk “In the Woods” with Emily Steinberg

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Emily Steinberg takes a walk “In the Woods” with her dog, Gus, in her visual narrative found in the Midsummer 2020 issue of Cleaver. During her walk, she focuses on Gus and her surroundings, reflecting on the way the real world and its real problems seem far away. In the woods, “All human makings disappear . . .” and there is only the sounds of the wind in the trees and the creek and Gus’s paws around her. This moment doesn’t last forever, though. She has to cross the threshold back into the real world where everything “comes sweeping back. Crowding my brain. Not letting me breathe.” But for a moment there is peace.

This short visual narrative gives readers a moment of peace as well as we soak in the quiet moment of respite along with Steinberg. Each panel features only Gus, a fluffy scribble of a dog padding through the woods, a dog always good comfort when it’s needed. The piece works as a good reminder to take a moment to find calm and quiet in the midst of the tragedies and turmoil swirling around us. By taking these moments, we’re able to recharge as we head back into the real world to face everything once more.

Seeing Dead People

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Say, “I see dead people,” to just about anyone, and they’ll likely be able to name the movie it came from. But unlike Haley Joel Osment’s character in The Sixth Sense, attempting to help the dead find peace, Jasmine, the narrator in Catherine Stansfield’s “I See Dead People and Other Gags” uses the concept to help herself.

Jasmine tells people she can speak to their dead loved ones, and uses social media to glean information that she later uses in her sessions. Having lost her own mother at a young age and never really speaking about it again gives her a detachment from death and the sentimental feelings surrounding it, so she profits off other people’s pain and grief. However, at the end of the story, she’s hit with a surprise that may make her change her mind about her career path.

I would’ve enjoyed reading more about Jasmine and her work, getting to know more about her clients and her grandmother who casts a shadow over her mother’s death. Stansfield’s writing style is matter of fact and straight forward, fitting for Jasmine’s no-nonsense character. But what we are given is a fun read, a peak behind the medium’s curtain.

Moran Remembers

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

March and the beginning of lockdowns in the United States somehow seems like it was years ago and just days ago. Time continues to slip by in strange ways. Emma Moran touches upon this in her nonfiction piece “What I Will Say” found in the Summer 2020 issue of Sky Island Journal: “Times had changed.  The quality of time had changed.  Hours extended and compressed.  Two hours talking to your sister passed in ten minutes.  Ten minutes extended into days, as you listened to the clock counting out the seconds you couldn’t sleep through.”

In this piece, she reflects on her dad’s instruction to “Remember this. One day your grandchildren will ask what it was like, living through this. Remember it all, so you can tell them.” In the following four paragraphs she explains the way life changed during the first few months of the pandemic, and she does so poetically and eloquently: “People built fortresses out of plans.  I will write those letters, I will train the dog, I will learn to speak French, I will learn to knit, I will learn, I will learn.  We would try to learn.”

Time continues to pass and the push to return to the normal life we used to know is insistent, but Moran remembers and gives a reminder of what we did for others and how we “learned; how we changed” during those first few weeks and months, writing with a thoughtful and sympathetic voice.

Childhood Crushes & Dentist Fanfiction

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

Who didn’t have an embarrassing crush growing up? For thirteen-year-old Chava in “I Love You, Dr. Rudnitsky” by Avigayl Sharp, her new crush is her titular dentist.

Chava, deep in the throes of the brutality of puberty, falls in love with her dentist one day. Her newfound crush with its accompanying fantasies serves as a respite from her real life: being Jewish and bullied at her Catholic school, a disconnect with her distant mother, and disgust at her own body—her weight, her body hair, her budding sexuality.

Sharp gives Chava a voice that’s somehow both humorous and tragic, bringing me back to those awkward days of adolescence and the torturous process of puberty. She’s upfront and honest, telling us truths she doesn’t admit to others, while simultaneously wrapping us up in one lie after the other. By the end of the story, it feels like we’re reading her Dr. Rudnitsky fanfiction she’s posting on some secret blog. One can’t help feeling sympathy for Chava, for wanting to sit her down and give her a hug and some advice, and we can thank Sharp for creating such a cringe-worthy yet completely loveable character.

“Tacos Callejeros” by Kenneth Hinegardner

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

There’s a fine selection of short fiction in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Concho River Review. Among them is the five-page “Tacos Callejeros” by Kenneth Hinegardner.

In this story, Steven observes a mother and her two children at a restaurant. The children misbehave as he eats and watches their behavior, and he ends up taking a liking to their mother, Melanie. Between these observations are passages about watching a dog fight on a past trip to Tijuana. As we read, it becomes clear Steven is not a caring and concerned individual, but is closer to a dog, its teeth around another dog’s throat.

Hinegardner writes with a slow build to the end, writing with precision and subtlety. The final character in this story, Ruben, acts the reader’s place, recognizing this part of Steven that is slowly revealed across the pages in this chilling, short piece.

Image, Music, and Language

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

I love when a poem has visual components, so I was happy to see a couple pieces by Ryan Mihaly in the Summer 2020 issue of The Massachusetts Review with visual accompaniment.

“[B]” and “[A♯/B♭]” are paired with clarinet fingering charts. In “[B],” the speaker looks back at “a catalogue of embarrassments,” which are broken down and pointed out on the chart as “Wrong name,” “Loss of language,” and “Failed elegance.” “[A♯/B♭]” explores language and communication, finishing, “Music is not a language because it cannot be translated into anything. It can only be described. A♯, then, is the word ‘handiwork’ mispronounced ‘hand-eye-work.’” The chart above shows a corresponding “Hand,” “Eye,” and “Work.”

While both poems would work just fine without the visual aspect, their presence is still welcome and enhances each piece, the text almost working as a footnote to guide the reader through the charts.

Jesus & Disney Princesses Have Much in Common

Magazine Review by Katy Haas

I may be an atheist, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying Liz Bruno’s poem in the latest issue of The Cape Rock. “Jesus, The Original Disney Princess” compares the religious figure to the familiar cartoon girls of our youth. I found the comparison to be lighthearted and sweet, the connections between Jesus and the girls clear. They’re all “Westernized beauty queen[s],” with “endless magic.” They teach “girls and boys to dream big and look pretty” and are friends with animals, are critics of the bourgeois, and rise above their humble beginnings.

A new and different take on the familiar religious figure, Bruno creates an endearing poem with an eye-catching title.