Reviewing the New England Review

It is the dream of most, if not all, young writers to have their name in print, whether it on the cover of their novel or next to the title of their short story that was published in a literary magazine. You want people to know your name. You want to leave your mark, your name carved into the pages of history inside literary giants such as The New Yorker, The Paris Review, and Tin House.

Another big name that lies upon the tip of the tongue of many aspiring writers is the New England Review, a quarterly journal sponsored by Middlebury College that has been running for over thirty years. According to their website, their mission is to publish “new fiction, poetry, and nonfiction that is both challenging and inviting” and to encourage “artistic exchange and thought-provoking innovation, providing publishing opportunities for writers at all stages of their careers.” It’s a claim that they have certainly lived up to, with this issue offering a mix of both familiar faces, like the previously published Joseph McElroy, and new ones like Maria Hummel.

One of the first things about NER’s 34th volume that grabbed me was its cover. It’s not overly flashy; in fact, the majority of the cover is a deep black save for a fiery orange that stretches across the bottom right hand corner. But the way it’s done is so clean-cut, it’s almost natural the way it sifts from dark to bright. If you want to read deeper into it, it’s almost as if that cover is saying that the black of night will eventually give way to the brightness of the dawn. It’s this idea—transition, the giving way of one thing to make room for another—that winds up becoming the sort of theme to this issue. Time, perception, forward motion, all those ideas and others besides come together in the interspersed pieces of poetry and prose, each piece having some sort of relationship with the ones that become before and after it.

While underrepresented—some would say criminally so—the fiction pieces in this issue are the ones that stand out to me the most, particularly “Lost Things” by Lisa Van Orman Hadley. While only three pages long, it leaves a sizable impact. Predictably, it’s a story about loss, with the narrator recounting the numerous things she has lost over the years. Hadley drives the point home using repetition and a set pattern, with nearly every paragraph is another item in the long list of items, people, and things that have been lost to the narrator and her family over time, from teeth to embryos to even her father’s slowly deteriorating mental state. This repetition hits us again and again, until we ourselves begin to feel hollow, as if each item has caused us to lose a part of ourselves as well. However, it becomes apparent that the work isn’t just a reminder of the constant presence of loss; it’s akin to a commentary on loss’s nature, on whether it’s as bad as we believe it to be. Hadley seems to be suggesting that it’s just a necessary part of life; things need to go away to make room for new, better ones.

However, not all the prose pieces are as short or as straightforward as Hadley’s piece, such as “Finding One’s Way as a Writer: A Sequence of Letters” by Italo Calvino. In comparison to “Lost Things,” Calvino’s work is interesting in concept—the letters create a montage sequence of sorts, with each one creating a clearer and clearer picture—but dry and tedious in execution. For the most part, these letters serve to document Calvino’s various thoughts on writing (a pet peeve of mine, to be sure; while it probably sounds odd coming from a writing major, I just don’t like works that do that, as they can come off sounding rather pretentious) although there are personal details dispersed throughout the collection, such as when he talks about his impending visit to America with Mateo Lettunich. Despite these brief gleams into Calvino’s personal life, it just wasn’t enough to grab my attention, and I quickly skimmed over this piece before moving on.

Part of New England Review’s mission is to present “a broad spectrum of viewpoints and genres, including traditional and experimental fiction, translations in poetry and prose, criticism, letters from abroad, reviews in arts and literature, and rediscoveries.” This edition lives up to this, as it contains samples from almost every genre imaginable, from translations like Yves Bonnefoy’s “Voice in the Sound of the Rain” to Kathleen Chaplin’s nonfiction piece “The Death Knock.” Some of the pieces are more outlandish and experimental than others, such as “Sons” by Michael Coffey. Coffey seems to implement every technique imaginable as he spins this long, convoluted tale of a man missing his son after sending him away, from italics to changing the format of the story itself. However, there’s such thing as too much, and I got lost among the always-changing structure of the story, to the point where I felt like the experimentation overpowered the narrative. But that doesn’t mean that will be true for everyone else; it’s a story that everyone should read, if only to appreciate the time and effort put into it.

There are 17 poems in this issue, five more pieces than there are of prose.  Even someone like me, who frankly doesn’t really understand poetry, can appreciate the excellent work put on display here. My personal favorite was Andres Rojas’ “Mirror Memory,” which deals with memories and how they are never truly forgotten, and serves as a great companion piece for Hadley’s “Lost Things.” “Closure” by James Hoch is another poem that I enjoyed, as it plays with expectations and doesn’t provide closure for the speaker or the audience, just lets both continue to tread water.

Overall, I really enjoyed New England Review’s issue. It lives up to their high standards, as every piece in here deserves its place within these pages. However, its true attraction is its universality. There is something for everyone to enjoy, the casual and serious reader alike. Whether you’re looking for something mind-bending, a pleasant read at the beach, or even if you’re just looking for something fresh and new, this is a publication that will have it. The New England Review is a publication I whole-heartedly recommend to everyone, and I know I’ll be impatiently waiting for the next issue to arrive at my doorstep.

 


Dark Coast Press: A Review

It is the dream of every author to be published. However, it is a difficult dream to realize; most manuscripts sent in to major publishers are rejected. As a writer, you’re forced to fit into certain categories of marketability in order to be considered; otherwise you’ll be tossed to the side and forgotten.

To combat this, legions of independent companies search far and wide for these innovative yet ignored authors, and make it their life’s work to promote them as seem their work published. One such publishing company is Dark Coast Press, which began as a local and regional business but now is slowly starting to expand and take its place on the national stage. Based in Seattle, it was founded in October 2009 by Aaron Talwar and Jarret Middleton. Talwar, a former editor from New Jersey’s Wiley & Sons, and Middleton, a New Hampshire-based author that serves as Dark Coast’s editor-in-chief, made it their goal to attract readers who dislike the current stream of literature coming from the major publishers and they publish writers who want to take risks. Dark Coast specializes in a wide variety of genres, including literary fiction, poetry, essays, and experimental works, and seeks “overall invention and innovation in writing from all genres.” They’ll publish anything that they feel isn’t getting the attention that it deserves, standing against the giants of the publishing world to deliver their promise to the masses. To this end, they stand alongside and support organizations like Indiebound.com and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, which do their best to support and promote and nourish other independent publishing companies. To a similar end, Dark Coast also runs Pharos Editions, a project dedicated to publishing texts that were once considered to be lost forever.

Their book covers reflect their ideals even further.  Compared to the covers generated by places like Random House or Scholastic, Dark Coast’s covers feel much more unique. They have a balanced mix of colors, typography, and images. The typography usually literally takes center stage, with it usually being blown up to a large size and done in thick strokes. While it’s placed on top of the image, the title doesn’t interact with the background, with Hell Called Ohio being an exception by adding texture to the letters as well as having a smokestack take the place of the letter “I.” The covers are generally more “artsy” than most, sometimes with variations in texture or having some sort of painted image to focus on, whether it be League of Somebodies’ lion, or SWELL’s whale. There’s no rainbow-like explosion of colors either; each cover has its own limited palette to work with, with usually some sort of rustic look. However, Thirteen Fugues is the one cover though that diverges from the rest. Its text is much slimmer than most, and doesn’t pop as much. The overall design feels much crisper and cleaner when compared to the other images.

There’s actually a fair bit of star power when you consider the list of Dark Coast’s published authors. Jarret Middleton, Dark Coast’s first published author, carries weight because of his work as an independent publisher, and has published a few works himself. Samuel Sattin’s League of Somebodies earned a star from Publisher’s Weekly. Kris Saknussemm is one of the better-known authors of the bunch, having published 10 different pieces that have been translated into 22 different languages. The only one who could beat him would be Jennifer Natalya Fink, who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize as well as the National Jewish Book and National Book Award, and as won a slew of other awards, including the Dana Award and STORY Magazine’s short fiction award. The other authors—Matthew Simmons (Happy Rock), John Hamilton (Hell Called Ohio), Corwin Ericson (SWELL), David Michael Belczyk (Elynia), and Jarret Middleton (An Dantomine Eerly)—are either new to the writing scene, or just haven’t reached similar levels of acclaim.

In addition, each of these authors is widely publicized. Authors Amelia Gray and Michelle Tea have written blurbs for some of Dark Coast’s published works. Publications such as The Boston Review and Publisher’s Weekly review and write blurbs for the books too. The company advertises interviews done by their authors, and links visitors to their website to reviews and book trailers. They make regular appearances to various readings and functions. They do their best to have the readers get to know their authors.

However, in comparison, there’s not much on the people behind the curtain. Outside of two-sentence briefs in their website’s missive, Dark Coast’s website doesn’t go out of their way to introduce and describe their founders. But at the same time, it fits the overall theme of the company. Dark Coast doesn’t want its readers to focus on the people who made all this happen; they want you to focus on the writers themselves and their work.

In this day and age, it’s getting harder and harder to have your work out there, as major companies focus on works that can be marketed to balance out the declining number of book sales. However, independent presses like Dark Coast serves as a viable, if not better, alternative to the literary giants, creating a welcoming atmosphere to new and established authors alike, focusing on having their talent be recognized rather than shunted to the side.

 


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