From Tom Dooley, Managing and Fiction Editor
There's some lengthy fiction in this issue. I don't recall ever having three novellas at the same time. The total fiction word count is about 74 thousand, which means if you're going to sit down and read it all, you're looking at the equivalent of a 240-page book.
Should you? Heck yeah!
Foremost because there's a lot of pleasureful reading to be had in those "pages," but also because this batch of stories presents a remarkably comprehensive reflection of the pressing issues here at the beginning of the 2020s.
Robert Earle's novella Jabber from the Streetworld has a take on homelessness, race, and class I haven't quite seen before, and it couldn't be more present day, built as it is around a podcast. As the Me Too movement celebrates Harvey Weinstein being tried in a New York court this month, with new charges against him being filed in LA this past week, Robert Stone's "The Cave" explores the psychosis of the sort of sexual predation that until recently was not only acceptable but expected. Not all men are predators, though, and Edward M. Cohen's A Visit to My Father with My Son gives us three generations of very flawed but ultimately decent men struggling with issues of sexuality and mental health. "Come and See" by Stephanie Yu, the only flash fiction piece of the group, may be short and surreal, but it does a pretty good job of embodying the sensational violence of our Dateline, true crime-obsessed, 24-hour news cycle world. Michael Campagnoli doesn't use the term PTSD in Perilous Stuff: Dispatches from Beirut, but he certainly explores what it means, what causes it, and what might help heal it. And while the horrors his protagonist experiences in the Middle East may have happened decades ago, they are unfortunately familiar as ever with the targeted killing of Quasam Soleimani and subsequent downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet this month. Ken O'Steen's "Le Freak" melds the real-life details of a 2001, white supremacy-infused, fatal dog mauling with 1970s iconography to illuminate our current political climate. And then there's yet another piece by last issue's Spotlight author, Peter Bridges. "All the Rage" is Peter's 17th addition to Eclectica's archives, joining his "Diplomacy, with Kids" in this issue's nonfiction section.
Last month's impeachment hearing testimony gave Americans a taste of the foreign service world Peter inhabited for decades. It's a complex but congenial world he has channelled to us in both his fiction and nonfiction, with "Rage" especially relevant because it takes us back to the days before WWI, when Russia was a place of great instability and corruption, when the US was ready to overlook atrocities if there were sufficient rewards in the offing, and when the fates of its Eastern European neighbors hung in the balance. That does sound a little familiar...
We chose to honor the aforementioned Robert Earle as this issue's Spotlight Author. Jabber from the Streetworld is an unusual piece of work. I've already talked about how topical it is, what with its musings on homelessness, race, and class, along with its use of a podcast as part of its narrative vehicle. Earle also explores gender issues and sexual abuse, and he does so in one of the cities foremost in the American psyche over the last decade, New Orleans. Ultimately, though, what drives Jabber are its characters. Every one of them, from the stubbornly independent protagonist to the two elderly lawyers who are her benevolent nemeses; to her well-meaning podcast producer and her unassuming, brilliant boyfriend; to the homeless man and his daughter with whom she shares an orbit: all fiercely defy easy categorization. They almost strike me as actual people who would be, maybe are, indignant to have been captured as fictional characters. They seem a little as though they've been been pinned like butterflies in a display, but still alive and wriggling to get free from the page—or in our case, screen.
As we head into the year 2020, which happens to be Eclectica's 24th year online, I have to admit to feeling a little foreboding. Not for Eclectica, per se, but for many other things. I have a sense—one I suspect I share with many people—of the fates hanging in the balance. It's a sobering reality: the Earth has seen more than a few mass extinctions. We humans have been around long enough to have seen more than a few civilizations come and go, more than a few empires rise and fall. America has been a country long enough to know if we ever get close to figuring things out, it only takes a generation or two for us to fall into serious disarray again. But with all this somewhat depressing reality comes perspective and appreciation: perspective that everything is part of a larger, unfolding pattern, and appreciation for the opportunity to hang around and experience this glimpse of said bigger picture.
In that spirit, I hope you enjoy this issue and have a great new year.
From Gilbert Wesley Purdy, Review Editor
Matthew Wade Thomas reviews Stuart Ross's debut novel, Jenny in Corona. Peter Amos looks back at Blood Meridian by Cormac MacCarthy. Dike Okoro interviews novelist Kobus Moolman. Ann Skea reviews books on dogs, Norse Eddas, wicked, fairy-tale step-mothers, and much more.
As always, I would like to invite anyone who might read this to send along reviews of books, art, music, cultural organizations, companies, and events—local, regional, national, and international—and cultural crit pieces on the same. Feel free to do so as a one-off or more or less regularly as works for you. I look forward to expanding the Review/Interview Section during the months ahead, to include a wide range of lively, insightful (even quirky) cultural crit. I hope you will stop by to read and/or submit.
From Evan Martin Richards, Poetry Editor
It's winter again, which marks one year of my tenure as poetry editor at Eclectica. I've had a blast working with my fellow editors to compile and produce these past five issues. I've learned so much from the many hundreds of authors who have shared their work with us, and I've come to further appreciate the act of creating a literary magazine as a wonderful and imperfect labor of love (if you'll forgive the cliché). Eclectica has provided me a space to engage with writing beyond an individual pursuit, to use a passion for literature to encourage, challenge, and share the work of others. It's an opportunity and a responsibility for which I'm grateful.
In this issue we have poems from Mary Beth Hines, Russell Rowland, and returning author Judy Kaber that encapsulate the good and bad of winter, the parts that warm us with thoughts of holidays and loved ones and the parts that make us want to seal ourselves under the comforter. We have a poem from the late Phoebe Marrall, whose work—unpublished in her lifetime—is now being shared with the world thanks to her daughters. And we have a 64-line meditation on culture and nature in spotlight-runner-up and new-to-Eclectica author Jayne Marek's "In My Arms"—I believe Nietzsche once said something along the lines of, "If you gaze long into the x-ray of your cat, the x-ray of your cat also gazes into you." Be sure to read these and the other fantastic pieces dwelling within our first issue of 2020!
From David Ewald, Nonfiction, Travel, and Miscellany Editor
As an editor deciding on what to publish, I'm taken with the unfamiliar, but I'd be lying if I didn't also write here that I appreciate the familiar as well. For me, Kafka is familiar, and it was my good fortune to accept two essays for this issue that deal with Kafka in different ways--one more directly than the other. In "After Kafka in Berlin," Elana Wolff spends an inordinate amount of time at the second coming of a Berlin hotel Kafka frequented while courting his muse and producing early masterpieces. The level of detail in Wolff's essay is impressive; her research presents Kafka as more than a literary figure. Through her words as well as his, Kakfa is rendered human, a lover negotiating his desires for his work alongside those of his woman. Taking a briefer but no less important role is the Kafka in "Those People," the essay by my nominee for this issue's Spotlight Author, David Raney. In his piece Raney examines the concept of contagion and how it's expressed through language—and how that language of disease and fear can in turn be used against certain "other," undesirable groups. With the US presidential election now months away and the possibility of war with Iran quite real, Raney's essay strikes a nerve.
Continuing on the European front, we have another infectiously delightful essay by Peter Bridges ("Diplomacy, with Kids") and a searing account of KGB-controlled capture and release from newcomer Lazar Trubman ("Millstones"), whose story of his final days as a free man in Moldova serve as a stunning counterpoint to Bridges's account of an American diplomatic family having their (albeit often surveilled) adventures.
To finish up the nonfiction section for winter '20, we have two powerful pieces that defy easy classification: "Legion" by Jessica Ripka and "Bad Bells" by Margaret Donovan Bauer. Hindsight in 2020 begins and ends with the body, the self, the leaving, the loathing, the letting go—and you can read it all here in the pages of Eclectica.