Greensboro Review, Number 98, Fall 2015

UNC-Greensboro’s Greensboro Review, I like the looks of it. Cover is nice, unfussy; a tough, no-nonsense cardboard render with contributors stenciled on the front. Reminds me of a pamphlet the Works Progress Administration might have produced. I champion the austerity of the thing. Fall 2015, Number 98 is forest green. Some good writing in here, too. The journal publishes fiction and poetry. Let’s look inside.

“Fragile Hearts on the Bay” by Tyler Sage is as good as any short story I have read all year and this is coming from someone who’s read both Best American Short Stories 2015 and The O. Henry Prize winners cover to cover (okay so I may have glossed over the fabulist entries).

Sage’s story is set in Hollywood, or rather at a bayside mansion outside of town patronized by that insane breed of the famous and the otherworldly privileged, and told from the point-of-view of a writer, a rebel, whose casual attitude suggests his best work is behind him. Still, there was that one book! —The Big River, it’s called. It’s not unusual for the narrator to encounter beautiful bookish bombshells coming up to him to inform him how his book touched them, how it cut through the bullshit, and that is what happens here. What a cast of characters. He’s there with a fabulous actress, a successful TV star, who’s dating the host: a Gatsby-esque international lawyer, who “seems to encourage a reading of himself as someone who is not quite human the way you and I are, but has instead overcome the routine tasks and difficulties of hygiene, emotion and upbringing.” The narrator uses this vacuous landscape to confront “the facade of (his) own life and false fronts” — and despite how shabby that might all sound, it’s rather affecting. A delicious conflict emerges between the writer, the actress, the lawyer, and an arms dealer, and the whole thing concludes with a tastefully rendered menage a trois and a struggle between men in the bay. It might be bold to go so far as to call it the best short story about Hollywood since Richard Yates’ “Saying Goodbye to Sally” –but there I just said it.

Other standouts are Linda Taylor, Glenn Shaheen and Alan Sincic. The speaker in Taylor’s poem, “To a Poet in Ohio: Not Tending a Fire in Oregon” sees the northwest, considers the scorched trees, and laments the birds that once inhabited them. I was particularly enamored of the rhyme scheme in the penultimate stanza: “I am not hungry for birds (ones/ in your poem), larks, black/cap and crow — that come, winter/cold, from a place I don’t know.”

In Glenn Shaheen’s “Darlin, Darlin,” an interracial fling is said to suggest “a great leap in the post-racial America,” until the white Houstonian friend of the speaker admits that the Off-Broadway star she slept with wasn’t black after all, prompting the speaker to recall how often he is mistaken for being Chinese, and the poem unfolds with feverish talk about confused identities and how complicated race is, unpunctuated and headlong and off…seemingly to infinity…superb.

Sincic’s “Sand” is a strange one, perhaps the most experimental offering, full of non sequiturs and a perverse energy. It starts with a grieving husband drying his socks in a toaster oven and only gets weirder from there. It reminded of some of Barry Hannah’s wilder moments, always welcome.

All in all, it’s a fine issue from a journal that’s been old school since 1965. To get a bead on the kind of talent the MFA program at UNC-Greensboro produces, check out an interview over at The Millions featuring two former editors, Kelly Link and Keith Joe Morris, discussing their craft and their latest books.

–Shane Moritz

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