by Max Rivlin-Nadler
Enlightened readers of the American literary magazine share a horrible secret.* They nod and consider their wonderful collection of fresh stories whilst cravenly considering – these words are nice and all, but what if all of these authors fought alongside one another, against those contained in another, similar publication? This month we highlight two such quarterlies, both named after popular bloodsport arenas: The Tin House and A Public Space.
Hailing from the mean streets of Brooklyn, NY and weighing in at 171 pages (22 of which are, unfortunately, poetry), the maturing magazine A Public Space (Issue 12) seeks to follow up on an incredibly strong showing in its Fall issue. Appearing in a purple jacket, the issue features the work of Noemie Goudal, whose photograph Flood (found on the cover) contains a young pajama’d Anglo, seemingly reading a book on metaphysics, in front of a Christian altar. Bring it, Tin House, is surely the message here. This quarterly is ready for battle of the spiritual kind.
APS begins with a few left jabs. Obtuse pieces by Tom Drury, Julian Gough, and Yiyun Li are confusing, high-minded, and pleasantly brief. Then the body shots – Tom Drury’s “Joan Comes Home” follows an absentee mother as she reclaims her son from his father in the unnamed midwest. A follow-up to his novel Hunts in Dreams, the story has deeply sullen but still sharp dialogue. It contains the most melancholy passage about a goat I have ever read. Kiki Delancey’s “A Good Six Two” is a Ham Radio love story, describing the depths of loneliness one can endure before giving up the safety of inwardness in order to relate to a warm stranger (and possible girlfriend). APS’s translated pieces are always among its strongest feature (Merce Rodoreda’s “Carnival” from the fall issue is the saddest, prettiest work I’ve read in a while), and Dorthe Nors “The Winter Garden” is no exception. Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts excerpts a piece from her book Harlem Is Nowhere, describing histories contained within and without the Harlem Public Library. Rhodes-Pitts has an incredibly observant, restrained, and hopeful voice while relating a neighborhood overcast by its own mythos. Then two teens get caught up in drug running in Patricia Engel’s doe-eyed “Fausto”. The bell rings. APS heads to its corner, and it’s time for some poetry.**
The bell rings again! Back to the prose – Jeffrey Lependorf’s “Dining With Proust” should interest those with a couple of letters after their names, and Antoine Wilson deftly explores the madness behind the one large fry in your carton in “Panorama City”. The celerity of Wilson’s narrator is like a simple kid talking about an awesome car-wreck. John Haskell attempts to locate some humanity in the unfeeling photographer Eadward Muybridge, in “The Persistence of Muybridge.” Haskell imagines himself as a camera, but makes too much out of nothing, motion where there’s stillness.
Overall a good effort by A Public Space, but a little disjointed. As is often the case with APS, in spanning so many countries, periods, and styles, consistency suffers.
Now to that cross-continental beast, hailing from Portland, OR AND Brooklyn, NY (with a strange forgotten office in Draper, North Dakota), Tin House Winter Reading weighs in at 216 pages (only 13 of which are Poetry, good for a fit .06 PMI [Poetry Mass Index]). Appearing in a beige jacket, the issue features the work Julianna Swaney, whose illustrations show cool indifference to all sorts of beast. A Public Space?, her creatures seem to mutter, more like a Poop-Lick Space.
Tin House comes out swinging. “Ryan Shifrin”, excerpted from Kevin Brockmeier’s upcoming The Illumination, describes a world in which all pain (physical and spiritual) becomes visible through an inexplicable luminescence. Ryan Shifrin, a missionary who survives besides all sort of calamity, is the inverse of the characters in Brockmeier’s incredible The Brief History of The Dead, in which Shifrin can only long for the afterlife instead of fully inhabiting it (and making love in it, paying rent in it – you should really check out The Brief History of The Dead). Teju Cole excerpts his upcoming Open City with “Welcomers,” a terse exploration of a haunted and chained New York. TH’s translated piece, “Life on Sandpaper” by the Israeli Yoram Kaniuk, is an incredible first-person description of high jazz from the perspective of a struggling painter, who also happens to be one of the first IDF vets to immigrate to America. The story ends, and maybe high jazz with it, as a snarling Sinatra defiantly wins over a crowd. The bell rings.
And back to the action! In Roy Parvin’s patient “Treetop” an ex-con attempts to stabilize by joining a Big-Brother program. Parvin writes sharp dialogue with an ear for the unspoken. In “Dear Psychic Underworld,” Full Stop fave Dan Chaon writes about a lonely father who finds absurd and hilarious notes around town (actual letters from Found Magazine). A Cal-Tech student has sex with his best friend’s girlfriend, then stabs his best friend, and gets a cushy tech job in Zachary Mason’s soulless “The Duel.” Rebecca Makkai raises the stakes at an NPR fundraising event in “Peter Torelli, Falling Apart”. Her description of the fear of suddenly being placed in another’s body, specifically that of a performer, is an extremely good example of great fiction- airing a mental fixation that we all share but never talk about.
After the smoke clears, literal smoke, and Tom Drury has battled Dan Chaon for the soul of the Midwest (Drury dramatically entered from the rafters à la WWF’s Sting only to be body slammed by the sturdy Chaon), Tin House has won this month’s edition of Full Stop’s Quarterly Lit-Mag TaiPei Deathmatch. For Tin House, honor. For A Public Space, the sweet thought of revenge.
*It’s not pretending to read the poetry sections. That’s not much of a secret.
**I really have nothing against poetry, I just have no idea how to discuss it, from which direction to read it, or at what angle to hold it.