By Laurence Levy,
There is lots of good work in Volume 26 of The Briar Cliff Review, published by Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa.
Slick but not too thick at only 124 pages, tall and wide, the magazine’s almost three dozen poems, four short stories, four nonfiction pieces, and miscellany are peppered and spiced throughout with terrific full-color art and photography. It’s an entertaining package.
Most of the work aspires to and much of it attains more than mere entertainment, though. All the short stories are worthy efforts.
Leslie Kirk Campbell’s “Thunder in Illinois,” the fiction contest winner, deals with “love and the manic duplicity of it.” Except for when directly addressed by his wife, the protagonist is always referred to as Mr. Evans, even when the reader is drifting along with him in his many reveries. By referring to him thus, Campbell endows him with a measure of dignity while also highlighting how distant a partner—and person—he is. For years he has kept a mistress in Thailand. Mr. Evans often thinks of his wife while with his mistress, his mistress when with his wife.
Despite some epic confrontations over the years, Mrs. Evans accomodates, without fully accepting, his waywardness. They remain fond of each other, and comfortable together, as formally enacted in their weekly rituals around a Scrabble-like game. Yet, Mr. Evans “can’t remember when she first said he was the cause of her loneliness…He holds tight to the blame…at night…he can feel it in his blood and smell its rotten scent.”
Campbell gives us a completely believable couple, with their moments of tenderness, emptiness, and despair.
The nonfiction contest winner, probably the outstanding prose piece in the issue, is JL Schneider’s “Call Me Tio.” On an archaeological dig in Inca territory, Schneider notices everything, and comments intelligently, often bitingly, about it all.
The great wealth of the issue is the poetry, threading through like a pulse, continually connecting with the reader… every few pages, another infusion of passion. Just about every poem touches some chord: of recognition, of emotion, of humanity. It is almost unfair to single out some at the expense of others—there are no dogs here—but among the noteworthy are two dog poems: Linda Bagshaw’s “Day’s End,” in which she considers an old dog, “ breath wheezing from tired lungs,” and wonders whether the dog “would just as soon go now, in night’s release…" and Gaylord Brewer’s “More Honored in the Breach: Talking to Your Dog on Skype,” in which he realizes, too late, the mistake he’s made in so doing.
The writers’ feelings for their pets are unmistakable.
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