From Tom Dooley, Managing/Fiction
It's the summer of 2022. To someone who grew up thinking 1984 represented the future, it feels like a fantastical year to be alive. In many respects, it is. Much has changed since my childhood, and yet, as memes about the hit Netflix series Stranger Things have pointed out, there's plenty of the same old, same old (Top Gun topping the box office, Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" running up the charts, the US in a proxy war with Russia...). Human, and more specifically US, history continues to cycle through various sets of ups and downs. The feminist movement of the '60s and '70s was recently echoed by the "Me Too" movement and now refuted by the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade. The Civil Rights movement of the '50s and '60s was echoed by the Black Lives Matter movement and is now being threatened by a resurgent white supremacist movement. The Labor movement of the '30s and '40s was echoed by the Occupy Wall Street movement and is now being demolished by conservative backlash and global recession. The COVID pandemic took us back to the Spanish Flu of the '10s and '20s. Regressing over a century, many feel a new civil war is brewing, and Texas is openly talking about secession. Heck, any day now, we might soon even see a resurgence of short fiction in the literary publishing world.
That last item may be pure science fiction, to overlap some metaphors, but just in case it isn't, this issue of Eclectica has added seven more scintillating stories to the conversation. As usual, no care or intent was applied to making these stories fit together thematically, but as is often the case, they do complement each other far more than one might expect from a completely randomized submission process. While the Nonfiction section—as Marko discusses below—has been heavily influenced by the pandemic, the Fiction section, both obliquely and directly, has a lot to say about the rest of the historical "echoes" mentioned above. They do so from a more masculine perspective than perhaps is usual for our pages. While there are female authors and characters in the mix, the protagonists and points of view are mostly male. We have a man's view of an abortion in Christopher Villier's "Father's Day," while "Puppy Teeth" by Greg Rhyno unapologetically shows us what adolescence looks like from the male perspective. Oddly, the rest of the stories have their authors and main characters gender swapping. David Krebs and Mark Williams give us female leads carving out agency in a man's world. Elizabeth Walztoni and Anna Maconochie give us male leads trying to understand themselves and the complicated women in their lives.
Fejiro Okifo won the Fiction Spotlight nomination and was selected as our overall Spotlight author for this issue. Marko compared her story, "The Thing Without A Name," to Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's short story, "The Headstrong Historian." Its protagonist, like that of Krebs' "Pawn" and Maconochie's "Opera," is playing a game where the deck is stacked against him, but also like both of those characters, he has been dealt at least two good cards: intelligence and determination. This isn't the first African short story about an intelligent and determined character who overcomes great odds to achieve what they perceive as success, nor is it the first African short story to use rich, beautiful prose to provide a glimpse of the rich, beautiful life those protagonists must give up in order to pursue their dreams. It is, however, a fine entry in the canon of both such stories.
In the Humor and Satire section—emphasis on the satire—Jennifer Walker's "The Best Time is Now" pretty much takes every aspect of present-day America and reduces it to scorched-earth hellscape. For me to reduce this story to a critique of wokeness, that would be, well, a gross reduction, but "Now" does do some serious critiquing nonetheless, as biting as only biting satire can be.
The Salon features not only our stalwart author of essays Thomas J. Hubschman, who has been bringing incisive and insightful prose to that section for 17 years now (and whose piece here is an absolute scorcher), but also two great new entries from Marko Fong and one from me—my first such effort since 2015.
Stuart Ross wasn't able to provide a note about the Review Section this issue, but he asked me to mention how excited he is to share such a bounty of reviews. His own piece about Lillian Fishman's Acts of Service is quite the sharp piece of writing in its own right.
In Eclectica alum news, I failed to mention last issue that Andrew Bertaina's One Person Away From You has recently been published by the University of Arkansas Press. Peter Bridges was interviewed recently in The Adirondack Review. The anthology Best Microfiction 2022 is now available, and Meg Pokrass and Tania Hershman are two of the editors. Meg also cowrote a microfiction collection called The House of Grana Padano. Robert Okaji won the Slipstream 2022 Poetry Chapbook Contest for his collection Buddha's Not Talking. Congrats to them and all the other folks out there working to be heard. If you've had success you'd like to share, please let me know by dropping me an email or posting to our Facebook group page.
Thanks as always to our contributors, editors, and readers for helping Eclectica continue to survive, thrive, and evolve.
From Marko Fong, Nonfiction
This didn't start out as a themed issue, but one did emerge: finding comfort. It shouldn't have surprised me. After all, we are living in a period of heightened anxiety: climate change, a land war in Eastern Europe, COVID, Dobbs, January 6, mass shootings, inflation. During times like this, we naturally seek comfort in the bits of day-to-day life we do control, and food is one such source. Elise Tegegne's "Shiro Wat" writes about a vegetarian Ethiopian stew and its role as a comfort food both in a culture she first got to know as a missionary, and in her family's life after decades back in America. As cultural polarization continues, food remains a powerful form of cultural connection. When we sample a dish from another country, we're literally sharing at a molecular level, something Tegegne points out in her elegant ending.
Melissa Phipps only mentions Katrina once in her essay, "ISO Paris in a New Orleans Afternoon," but the hurricane that drove so many people out of that city provides a fascinating subtext for a story about a couple who decide to make their home there in the face of family skepticism. Gray explores the city's French history in places and ways mere tourists can't. Refreshingly for a New Orleans piece, there's almost no mention of either food or Dixieland. In the meantime, she develops her own roots there after marrying a second time. It reminds us that great cities and their histories have a way of enduring, adapting, surviving, and flourishing. Sometimes, our personal lives manage to do the same.
When I first started Marisa Mangani's "Big Sky Country," I confess I almost rejected it out of hand: I'd simply read too many hippie memoirs. Her piece caught my attention when I realized she was describing 1978 and not 1968. My interest picked up further when she jumped to the present and shared the story of returning to Portland and experiencing an awkward reunion with her ex-boyfriend almost 40 years after they parted ways. It looks at how we find comfort in reconciling who we once were with who we became, or perhaps, more accurately, who we turned out to be all along.
Perhaps it was no accident that Wayne Scott's "Viktor Frankl Guides Us Through the Pandemic" actually was submitted for our prior issue and Susan Bloch's "The Longest Walk" was the last submission considered for this issue. Scott, a psychologist, explores the wisdom of Frankl, a psychologist who personally survived the Holocaust, and applies it to helping us through the COVID pandemic, a far less horrific event but still a test of our inner resources. Bloch's take on COVID is a memoir of making her way through the pre-vaccine pandemic as a relatively recently widowed woman living alone in Seattle, thousands of miles away from close family. Serendipitously, Scott's Frankl-based prescription plays out in Bloch's lyrical description of her literally finding a path to getting through to the other side.
I don't know if the nonfiction/travel/miscellany part of the Fall issue will have a unifying theme, but I'll be paying special attention to accounts of being provoked, whether it's about acting on it or letting it linger. In a word, "discomfort."
From Evan Martin Richards, Poetry
Hello and welcome!
Appearing for the first time in Eclectica's poetry section are Jill Michelle and Spotlight Runner-Up Shareen Murayama. Christine Potter and D.S. Maolalai return for the summer issue. The four pieces vary in form, but are united by memory and perspective. Potter opens the issue with a richly detailed narrative reflection set in upstate New York, and then Maolalai's piece transports to a bird's eye view, conflating cityscape and ocean rock and invoking—at least to this Chicagoan—a sense of nostalgia. Michelle's prose poem touches on loss, generational trauma, and the degeneration of memory. Murayama wraps up the section by investigating remembrance and legacy from atop a volcanic ridge, her final note the sound of water hitting earth.
In the Word Challenge feature, we welcome Megan Brown, Leslie Soule, and Rekha Valliappan. Returning are Devon Balwit and former Poetry Editor Jennifer Finstrom. This issue's challenge asked poets to compose a piece including the words shape, twice, repeat, and crash. Some favorite images from the section include stone-rooted soil, raining glass, wineglass dimples, fruit-filled markets, and the courtship of pigeons. The challenge words for next issue will be control, hang, cost, and match—I look forward to reading your submissions.
Take care and happy reading!