Friday, June 03, 2005

Knocking on the Tin House

The newest issue of Tin House is billed as the Obsession issue. Theme issues, I realize, must be pretty tough to do. Some of the submissions will match what the editor's looking for, but I'm sure a good number don't. This issue, in particular, has several pieces that don't relate to the theme at all. Unless I'm just missing something, but I don't think I am.

In general, I actually enjoyed the non-fiction more than the fiction. Some took the quasi-literary approach, like Nathan Alllling Long's essay on Samuel Delany's The Motion of Light in Water or Jessmyn West's memories of her childhood favorite reads in her essay "Cress Delahanty". Others take a more personal approach, like Steve Almond's "My Soul Upon the Grill", which ends with a nice recipe for chicken salad, and "The Green Fairy" by Elissa Schappell, which explores her strange fascination and near addiction with absinthe.

Fiction-wise, the pieces I liked the most are the ones that tie closely into the theme. Amanda Gersh's tale "Stalk Me Gently" is, not surprisingly, a story about a stalker. The twist, though, is that the stalker's target-a lovely girl named Julie-enjoys the thrill of being stalked. Interesting curveball, in that their obsessions mirror and play off each other. We only get the point of view of the stalker, which made me wonder at points that Julie's obsession might be a fabrication to justify his actions. Delving into her point of view could be fun, but it would have made the piece much too long for a mag like Tin House, and might actually constitute a novel's worth of material

"Mudman" by Pinckney Benedict is probably my favorite piece in the whole issue. Farmer Tom Snedegar is driven by three obsessions: wasps in his house, the belief that his wife is having an affair, and the building of his Mudman. With a skeleton made from scrap pieces of wood and flesh and muscle from sculpted mud and dirt, the Mudman transforms from a blob of nothing into a living, moving, talking varmint killing machine. The three obsessions circle around each other and accomplish what I really look for in well written fantasy-the creation of a magical tale that in the end reflects upon the characters driving the work.

Bill Gaston's "A Forest Path" tells the story of a young man who hates fiction. Kind of an odd character to write about, his story makes sense as he tells it to you. His hatred for fiction extends from his unending obsession for the author Malcolm Lowry. This obsession, though, is not that of a fan but of a son left behind. A child of a brief affair between his mother and Lowry, the narrator lays blame for all the bad things that have ever happened to him and his mother at the feet of this respected if somewhat odd author. A compelling story, it has a lot to say about how authors and artists in general interact with the rest of the world.

There are other good pieces in the issue--Sergei Nosov's "Nabob: A Writer's Tale" and "End of Messages" by Lucia Nevai are particularly good--but they don't really fit into the theme. I went into the issue with certain expectations on the issue, and found myself a little let down by each piece that didn't really fit the mold promised by the cover or the editor's introduction. Not the fault of the writers at all, but the editors should have saved these pieces for use in other issues.

Beh. Maybe it's just my headache talking.

Happy weekend to everyone.


No comments: