Here is a sweetly cranky seriously-so-reader-response-oriented tallied initial review of the fall 2008 edition of Irreantum, which arrived in the mail two days ago:
- 5 short stories of which 2 spoke to me (and is it relief or favoritism or familiarity or something else that it’s Angela Hallstrom’s and S.P. Bailey’s stories), 1 of which is intriguing but left me cold (“I’ll Be a Stranger to You” By Cara Diaconoff), 1 of which was just about getting somewhere but not quite and could use some tweaks and another 800 words or so (Russ Beck’s “Two Things”) and 1 more (“The Memo Box”) that was just a’ight. In fact, the latter 3 were all kind of depressing. Actually, it wasn’t so much that they were depressing as that they didn’t give characters their fully developed existence (which Hallstrom especially does well) blocked as they are by the literary insistence on the image and the broken and the minor*. Or it could just be that I’ve become a reactionary.
- 2 works of creative nonfiction: 1 that I enjoyed — had some lovely detail — but the ending whimpered out and overall Joshua Foster either needed to be more ruthless in his conclusions or warmer and more languorous in his memories (“Long in the Tooth”) and 1 that I didn’t even realize was creative nonfiction (“Mesa”) as it read like a short story, and I suppose that could be construed as powerful, but for all that it’s trying to be haunting I seem to have shrugged it off fairly easily, which, of course, may say horrible things about me or may be that I just wasn’t given enough to really do anything with.
- 14 contributors of whom 6 have MFA or undergraduate creative writing experience, 4 of whom teach at universities, 2 of whom are (or are about to be) lawyers.
- 1 lovely (albeit genteelly abstract) cover (painting by Barbara A. Lyman) [Late night edit -- after looking at the cover while listening to Joy Division, the painting strikes me as much more interesting and much less genteel. It's a good cover.]
- 9 poems only 1 of which grabbed me on the first reading as tackling language and metaphysics deeply enough to be worth rereading — that would be B.W. Jorgensen’s “Beginning to Bodysurf.”
- 1 piece of literary criticism — B.W. Jorgensen’s “Reading about Sex in Mormon Fiction — If We Can Read” — that won’t surprise anyone who has read Jorgensen’s earlier work and starts off a bit shaky and obvious (sorry but quoting from For the Strength of the Youth and pointing out that scripture has some naughty moments seriously misses the point — a pamphlet is not the place to go for discussion of aesthetics and scripture is not literature — any argument for Sex In Mormon Fiction [henceforth know as SIMF] has to argue from literary context) but gets in some good points and analysis in the middle and has some lovely sentences (which Jorgensen always delivers). I think that Laura Craner provides us with some better examples, however. And Theric brings much more sexiness and sensuality and doctrineality to the discussion (and Tyler more poetry but now I’m just playing favorites even if, well, there are Textual Reasons for it).
- 3 works that had enough humor to coax a smile from my reactionary mug — Bailey’s “Outside,” Beck’s “Two Things” and Vanessa Arden Nuckoll’s poem “I’ll Tell You What the Butterfly Represents” plus one amusing Contributor bio (Vanessa’s, of course).
- Zero reviews, zero author interviews, zero industry news, zero anything that taps in to even semi-current conversations (recognizing, of course, that yes, Irreantum is behind and yes, it’s taken on more of a literary journal format, and yes, blogs have soaked up much of the interviews and reviews).
- 3 things that bugged the hell out of me in particular order:
- A. A table of contents that doesn’t indicate which works are essays, poetry or short stories (this is rectified on the website).
- B. An editor’s note that says “We accepted [Angela's] story for publication long before she rejoined us as co-editor: we don’t self-publish, which even though you may not have noticed or cared about, is important to me. But you do need to notice her novel, Bound on Earth, of which ‘Faithful’ is an extract.” I beat up on Scott in a review of Irreantum 9.1, so I was going to let this go because now I’m just looking petulant and cranky, but I have to say, no, I don’t care about it. I don’t think it’s something to be proud of. If something is good enough that you want to publish it, who the hell cares if one of your staff wrote it or not — I want it. We’re starving for good work. Withholding it seems like a cruel joke — not to mention the fact that Irreantum should have had the scoop on Bound on Earth, should have debuted any discussion about it. Don’t give me some notion of literary objectivity and respectability that was current for, like two decades sometime in the 20th century. It’s a bloodless policy that ignores the fact that this community is so small and incestuous and needing of talent and passion that the only solution that makes sense is a ruthlessly nice but brutally partisan homerism. Now, of course, the contests are a little different — although since they are judged blind, unless the judges have seen a work before then the only people who shouldn’t be able to enter are the judges themselves.
- C. This sentence from Jorgensen’s piece: “So then: can we read about sex in the Mormon fiction of Virginia Sorensen, Maurine Whipple, Levi Peterson, Margaret Young, John Bennion, Jack Harrell, Chris Bigelow, or (so I’ve heard) Anita Stansfield.” If one is going to press LDS fiction (of the LDS LDS sort, if ya know what I mean) in to service, to try and pretend that it’s on Your Side then one should have the decency to actually, you know, read it**. ***
- 1 person who will re-up his Irreantum subscription next February and will be looking to submit at least one thing over the next year.
So that’s my tally. What’s yours?
*Not that there’s anything wrong with minor. I am fully committed to acts of minor triumph and failure and havoc. It’s what I do best.
**Of course, I’m a major hypocrite here as I have not followed through on my project to read LDS genre fiction. I either need to buck up and see what Interlibrary Loan can do for me or see if I can pick up some used titles for cheap. Or people could send me their castoffs.
*** [7/16 edit: Wm deleted that hanging Otherwise. I forgot that I had decided that I could just stop there.]