Cornell University publishes a delightfully imaginative literary magazine, EPOCH, thrice yearly. Volume 60, Number 2 contains ten thought provoking tales, each with its own distinct sensibility, each the sort you start and can’t put down. Most of the characters tend toward the obsessive; most of them are realer than half the folks you think you know. There are other similarities between some of the fictions, making for some interesting segues. These include an examination of European class structure, the immigrant experience, being a teenager or a teacher and temporal journeys to the mid twentieth century.
The cover, “Gloved Embrace,” by Brody Burroughs, is almost an eleventh story—an oil painting, a close-up of an especially tender hug between a man in a khaki tank top and a woman wearing those god awful bright yellow dishwashing gloves that make your hands reek of rubber, clutching a blue dish drying towel that’s color coordinated with her blouse. Lots of statements made there…
“How to Make a Bed,” by James Francisco Kusher begins with the narrator ironing his sheets on a Friday night, at college, after a life altering stint in the navy. We soon learn about his passion for making his bed, how he came by it, and what this metaphorical obsession has done to his life.
“Where You Get Ahead of Yourself,” by Matthew Pitt, flirts with the fantasy genre. A story about a swell hero—that’s a notch and a half below a superhero—whose amazing gift is an awareness of danger exactly three seconds before it happens. Poor fellow, between his immigrant status and his struggle to grasp the English language, he never quite gets his due, even when he saves the President, until his lovely English tutor takes a hand in things.
“We’re in Danger, All of Us,” by Jerry Gabriel, takes place during the cold war. A junior high school basketball prodigy is invited to be part of an American team going to Romania, if the assorted crazies in his life don’t manage to screw the pooch sixteen ways to hell for him beforehand in the longest story of the batch.
“Pérou,” by Lily Tuck, is a heart wrenching childhood recollection of a young woman of the privileged class recalling her nanny, Jeanne, whom she has not seen since the end of the Second World War. Escaping Brittany as an infant just before the German invasion, the innocent witnesses how different the émigré experience in Peru is for her overly self-indulgent mother and the dutiful Jeanne without comprehending the implications of what she sees at the time.
“Loyalty,” by Gregory Brown, is the gritty story of a Maine construction contractor, scrapping for a living in a state whose economy is in a perpetual recession, doing his utmost to harmonize the relationships in his life without passing judgment, without contributing to the glut of unfolding personal trauma that surround him, without succumbing to the weight of the struggles engulfing his wife and son.
“Institutes and Academic Societies of Northern Europe,” by Luther Magnussen, is…what? Imagine Tom Wolfe meeting Franz Kafka in Ingmar Bergman’s drawing room, to discuss little known cultural oddities of the mid twentieth century. It has the humor of Monty Python without all the annoying screaming and mantric distractions, as our upper class hero fondly recalls his own decades long drug fueled misadventures among the rich and driven.
“Milo’s Last Chance,” by Jerome Charyn is a brief and touching account of a star crossed love affair between an idiot savant of sorts teaching poetry in the South Bronx to a school for other outcasts and misfits, and an aging lap dancer, with Keats and Byron looking on.
Almost a vignette, “Mona,” by Laura Kasischke, is a graphic account of a single mother rummaging through her teenage daughter’s belongings, in an attempt to nip potential adolescent crises in the bud, with an ending that explodes proportionately to the extent of the reader’s imagination.
“Earth Angels,” by Ali Hosseini, is a letter, the ravings of an overworked doctor on the verge of madness, a reaction to the recent religious revolution in Iran. It takes place in a world in which young women are expected to soar like angles wrapped in their stifling hajibs; where the authorities police morals, fashion and belief; and where a shattered voice reaches desperately across an ocean in search of a kindred soul.
And lastly, “When It’s Q & A Time,” by George Singleton, is a meandering reflection in which a man reminisces about his odd neighbors who lived underground and dug potholes as a self-styled method of job security, his obstinate father who saw everything in terms of bricks and filled pot holes to assuage his guilt, and his ex-wife with whom he attended lectures and demonstrations to avoid addressing their disintegrating relationship.
At $5 a copy, this magazine is a steal. http://www.arts.cornell.edu/english/publications/epoch/