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Spring 2023 | Volume 5, Issue 2

LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

Sometimes the questions you ask yourself become rhetorical. Maybe that means you’ve reached a kind of symmetry, or even nirvana. Maybe that means you’re mired in stagnation and too lazy to do anything about it. But it probably just means that each life has a kind of natural loop to it; a unique loop that becomes recognizable to the individual inhabiting it, sooner or later. And I guess you’re doing alright if after finally seeing it for what it is, you find no desire to change it. Any of it. Anyway, that’s kind of where I end up when I’m stacking poker chips at 4am and wondering why I haven’t done more books.

I suppose this “loop” sort of sounds like a tradeoff, but that’s too pedestrian. I’m not trading one thing for another, and shame on you if you think life is ever that equivalent. Give yourself more credit—it’s Algebra B at the very least. Because it might be true that I would’ve written more books by now if I didn’t play poker. But it’s damn sure true that I never could’ve written the one I did if I hadn’t played poker. And this realm—this nebulous place where I, as the founding director of The Sancho Panza Literary Society, and the founder and editor in chief of New Square Literary Magazine, write syllogistic essays and publish them in these pages, certainly couldn’t have existed without poker. There’s a fairly open secret that most all of you consigned to reading this are well aware of—we can’t live this life (itinerant adjunct professors, literary fiction authors, journal scribblers, etc), unless we can find a way to make money doing something else. 

But don’t be fooled to think it’s about something as boring as money; it’s really only ever about time. Everything is really only ever about time. I have learned that “normal” jobs frown upon the concept of one being absent every May/June and January to return to Dublin to direct writers residency. That’s quite a shame. 

For those of you who don’t know, let’s get a few things straight about the game. It isn’t about sponsored internet kids wearing sunglasses indoors at events televised by ESPN. It isn’t about maudlin scenes of harried men with fashionably unfastened neckties staring vacantly at “insufficient funds” messages on ATM screens at large corporate resort casinos.

 

It’s not that such things don’t occur, but that they are one dimensional caricatures of a game whose heartbeat exists fully in the margins. That game happens in the back of a fish restaurant at 4am on a Tuesday where a guy who makes a thousand bucks a month somehow finds a way to be stuck five times that. That game is about “the sheet” (the dole, the ledger), and the sheet is where we find grace. It is where we borrow, forgive and make good. It is where broke men make bad loans to people they barely tolerate, because we all know it’s better than normal life, and in a game where the best players in the world still go bust a few times a year, we all need help to stay in it.  If you’re searching for divinity, I know a fish restaurant where you can find it at 4am.

 

About halfway through This Side of Paradise, Monsignor Darcy writes to Amory, “All you ever need tell me of yourself is that you still are, for the rest I merely search back in restive memory, a thermometer that records only fevers.” I’ve been blessed in my life to have a number of Monisgnor Darcy types (Dr. Engel, Amos Gelb, Da Chen), but I’m not sure that I’ve quite earned the right to just report that I still exist, and the answer to that has become rhetorical ( loops and such). You can muse and philosophize all you want in your debut, but people say that you have to write “about something” in your second book. That’s probably fair. I’ve resisted this for a long time, but I owe poker my career, and poker certainly owes me a book. It’s my Kilimanjaro. At least for right now. Just don’t let me call it something stupid like Burn and Turn.

-JR

STAFF PICKS

Joseph M. Reynolds Bojack Horseman. 

When a great comedy is also the single saddest thing you’ve ever seen, that’s probably what art is.

 

Will Carpenter | Appalachian Reckoning

Particularly to our American readers—but also, more generally, to anyone concerned with the exploitation and marginalization of predominantly rural places, as well as the resistance and vitality that persist in such spaces—I heartily recommend this anthology of work by Appalachian scholars, writers, and artists assembled in response to J.D. Vance’s somewhat infamous Hillbilly Elegy. Edited in 2019 by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll, Appalachian Reckoning presents a (perhaps unexpectedly!) diverse array of voices that together challenge nearly every perception of Appalachia, from the most blatant stereotypes to sophisticated arguments advanced by both liberal and conservative elites, familiar/conceivable to us outsiders and internalized by those who call it home. Many contributors sternly, patiently interrogate rhetoric that most of us, especially our most educated, continue to embrace as plain fact; others attempt to resist entirely the pressure to define their experience by the ills exogenously inflicted upon their region, opting instead to offer more immediate instances of Appalachian joy, ingenuity, loss, and trouble. If you aren’t yet concerned with these issues, or believe that they don’t concern you, you’ve all the more reason to open this beautiful book. Should you do so, I’m confident that its piercing analysis, charming frankness, and scintillating essayistic synthesis will keep you reading.

 

 

Harry Lowther Kenneth Anger – Puce Moment (1949)

Although the content of Kenneth Anger’s earlier short masterpiece, 1947’s Fireworks, feels staggeringly ahead of its time, that film at least has the decency (if that word can ever be applied to Anger’s work) to look like it was filmed using the same technology that was available to other filmmakers in 1947. Puce Moment appears to have been filmed, if not last week, then no earlier than the 1990s. The title hints at Anger’s first use of colour, and he uses it beautifully as he fetishizes a collection of 1920s flapper style dresses. The anachronisms are delicious.

 

The motion applied to these by Yvonne Marquis gives the film a proto-music video feel, particularly combined with the psychedelic folk-rock Anger added as a soundtrack in 1970, replacing the original Verdi soundtrack – which doesn’t work as well, pulling the film into different tonal directions. 

 

Anger’s interests in silent-era Hollywood, sex, and fashion combine with Marquis’ ethereality to convey a sense of dreamlike yearning or fantasy, or, viewed another way, grief for the roaring twenties in this post-war, feminine scene, noticeably absent of any masculine influence. Indeed, the ultimate audience for the character’s outfit is her four equally fabulous dogs.

 

 

Ara Hagopian | The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government By David Talbot

“She realized, for instance, that intelligence could be gathered From the enemy as well as Allied camps by tapping into the underground homosexual network that ran through Europe’s diplomatic and espionage circles. “One of my [OSS] colleagues was frantic,” Bancroft later recalled, “because he wanted to get a— how do the French say it, a tuyaux— you know, a line into this homosexual network. And he used to bang on the desk and say, “I wish Washington would send me a reliable fairy! I want somebody with a pretty behind so I can get into that fairy network and find out what the British are doing in North Africa!”

 

Stephanie Pushaw Yellowjackets 

The cutthroat world of teenage girlhood turns literal in this survivalist fable of trauma, sacrifice, and a pitch-perfect soundtrack of 90s disaffection anthems 

 

Christopher Flakus Father of Lies by Brian Evenson. Coffee House Books.

There are few books and even fewer authors that have the ability to disturb the reader long after having read their texts. Shirley Jackson accomplishes this. Certain books by Phillip K Dick often leave me wondering after my own sanity or reality. But it’s the dark, speculative horror author Brian Evenson’s first novel, Father of Lies which I’ve found both profoundly upsetting, and highly re-readable. To understand the book itself, it might be interesting to note the fact that Evenson was raised Mormon and held a teaching position at Brigham Young University. When a student complained about the content of his work (his book of stories and short novella at the time, Altmann’s Tongue, a phenomenal book in its own right that won the author comparisons to JG Ballard and Kafka) the school’s upper echelon of religious elders told him that he needed to change the content of his writing to continue working there. He sued, and won. Shortly after he left the faith, though cults and blood oaths riddle his work. 

 

Father of Lies could almost be seen as a response to this incident. The book begins in an epistolary fashion, with the correspondence of a psychiatrist named Alexander Feshtig and Director Kennedy, who sends him an unofficial memorandum in a problematic matter, asking to see the files of a patient of Feshtig’s one Elder Eldon Fochs, the true protagonist of the story. The first segment of the book is narrated, in a sense, by Feshtig. We, the reader, are privy to the sought notes in question. Within them we begin to see a portrait of a man who seems…off. Not just in his expression of pedophilic desires, but the power and sway he holds over his congregation, his strange mix of religious fanaticism and cruelty. He justifies his crimes at first, but as the book goes on Fochs cares less and less for justifications. He blooms into the full monster he always was, protected by a Church that knows the truth about him, but would rather hide it than let it “damage the church.”

 

A clear and damning book that brings you into a mind whirling with sadistic madness. Evenson’s style is unique, we’re introduced to beings within Fochs’ own psyche that may or may not be real. Even he can’t decide. And if they are real, whose voices are they? Written in a sparse, surrealistic style, Evenson’s prose in this short novel (he’s always said his preferred mode is the novella) mirrors the strange power of the short stories which first put him on the map. A deeply troubling and sadly urgent novel, Father of Lies, will linger with the reader long after the book has been tentatively returned to the shelf. 

EDITORIAL STAFF

Editor in Chief/Fiction Editor | Joseph M. Reynolds
Managing Editor | Samuel Marx
Poetry Editor | Sean Frederick Forbes

Nonfiction Editor | Stephanie Pushaw
Book Review Editor | Amber Smith
Music Review Editor | Kevin Carr
Layout/Design | Eri Lauer
Copy Editor | Bianca J. Robinson

Contributing Editors

Thomas Keith
Payal Nagpal

Stephanie Pushaw

 

Staff Contributors
Caitlin Andrews
Elizabeth Boudreau
Will Carpenter
Chris Flakus

Sandee Gertz

Vix Gutierrez

Ara Hagopian

Harry Lowther

Rose Malone

Jojo Rich

James Schepker

Sam Thuesen

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