Monday, April 06, 2009

Book/Magazine Review: Lone Star Stories Issue #32

Every Monday, I'll be doing spoiler-free, bite-sized book/magazine reviews.

This issue of Lone Star Stories comes together with a unified theme, at least when it comes to the fiction side of things (I was never a discerning poetry reader). While there have been better individual stories in the past issues, the publication must be commended for having a complementary selection. Lone Star Stories for me is about having a North American ambiance and lore, not simply a rehash of Tolkien, but embracing the untapped potential of the US as a fantastical (or SF-nal as the case may be) setting. The three stories featured accomplishes just that, conjuring an atmosphere in which where the story takes place matters.

"People, Unnoticed" by Patricia Russo is the weakest for me mainly because I'm not too fond of the narrative style. This is really a piece told from the first-person perspective although it seems like a second-person narrative for a good chunk of the length. It isn't a story that immediately hooks you as Russo sets up the premise--a people divided--using her nontraditional technique. It takes some time before we arrive at the conflict although to Russo's benefit, she's established the fantastical element by then, teasing us with snippets but without being overt. The high point of the story is the dialogue between the messianic figure and the narrator's people, and it has a mythical aspect to it. By the time we reach the end, the author succeeds in planting a dominant emotion in the reader, and this is what ultimately makes it work. This isn't my favorite of the three, but Russo's story has a specialized charm.

"Off the Path" by Nicole Kornher-Stace is brief but what it lacks in length, the author makes up for in vivid imagery and lyrical language. Perhaps what best sums up this piece is that it reminds me of Kornher-Stace's poetry and while still a short story, it could have worked as a prose-poem. The text is stunning and beautiful that it's easy to forget what a tragic tale "Off the Path" really is. The other element going for it is the juxtaposition between the fantastical and a very modern concern, the way Kornher-Stace combines the mythic with an illness we've all heard of. It's quite daring and actually a complex piece, from the characterization down to the metaphors.

"Gone Daddy Gone" by Josh Rountree is the longest and best fits the American fantasy that I was talking of earlier. Rountree sustains a beatnik tone and language all throughout, at the same time tugging at the reader's emotions while still being concise and clear. The author explores familiar but altered vistas and while this particularly lengthy narrative is one long road trip, it sustained my interest and the reward at the end was worth it.

This issue's poetry section is exciting, mainly because two out of the three poems are quite accessible and have an obvious narrative flow to them.

"Fjöturlundr (Saturnian)" by Sonya Taaffe is short but it immediately grabs you with the imagery and beat. Taaffe is consistent with her theme and subject matter, precision being her favored tool of the trade. I appreciated the constant transition in the poem, which in turn points back to the theme and produces a certain catharsis.

"Bones of the God" by by Ann K. Schwader is this fusion of fiction and poetry, and evokes the sense that there's a poem within the poem. On the poetry side, Schwader includes lines which are dying to be spoken out loud such as "croc eater, anaconda eclipser" and "slitherwhisper." There's two different beats here, her regular narrative and the conjuration of haiku-like passages. When it comes to the story, Schwader gives us the perfect excuse to admire her hypothesis.

"The Maiden to the Fox Did Say" by Amal El-Mohtar and Nicole Kornher-Stace is a compelling poem-dialog between two personas. Their lines don't feel stiff or contrived but at the same time have the rhythm of what you'd expect from a poem. What I particularly liked about this piece is how it draws from the pool of fairy tales we're familiar with and time twisting them to suit their purposes. Even if you disregard the poetry aspect, it still makes for a good story.

Overall this is an issue with a tighter theme and while the stories aren't the best of the best, they're still quite good and daring in their own way. The poetry's interesting for someone like myself who's intimidated by such subject matter and continues to delight and surprise.

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