In fiction, we like to watch people work their way through difficult situations, and so writers create interesting characters—sometimes likeable, sometimes not, sometimes a little of both—and place them in trying circumstances or, as others have described it, visit trouble upon them. It’s one thing, though, for people to struggle with each other in private, and quite another when they must do so in the company of others. The characters in this issue’s fiction—a section we could call “On Our Best Worst Behavior”—find themselves having to work things out while they are guests and hosts. In Andrea Dupree’s “Lineage,” Roger and Claire, off on the wrong foot with their hosts from the very start, attempt to reconnect with each other through the strain of illness, infants, and infidelity, while trying to be gracious guests on their friends’ French estate. Ben and Phoebe, exploring the new contours of sobriety and trying to combat Phoebe’s chronic depression, must reckon with a lie she tells at a dinner party—and ultimately with the difference in their capacities for happiness—in Antonya Nelson’s “Funny Once.” On a road trip with his charming father and stiff, older cousin visiting from Germany, the narrator of Charles Haverty’s “Tribes” begins to see the cracks in his father’s integrity and, reacting to them, suffers his cousin’s searing reproach. And in Heidi Diehl’s “Weisshorn,” a resentful daughter, the guest of her stepfamily in Switzerland, longs to confront her elderly mother about their contentious relationship.
In nonfiction, we have two essays that address similar phenomena: the accrual of choices and actions, one thing leading to another and resulting in some kind of irrevocable change. In “Landslide,” Regina Drexler recounts the story of a friendship and a series of circumstances and misunderstandings that bring about devastating consequences for nearly everyone involved. Contributing editor Charles Baxter’s personal/craft essay “Undoings” examines that moment in a plot when everything changes, what he calls “the one-way-gate action”; it is a moment, he writes, “when characters . . . cannot get back to the place where they started from because the actions have changed the fundamental situation.” It is probably, and unfortunately, a moment we all recognize from our own lives, our own narratives. But what better season to encounter these pieces than spring, a time of renewal, of starting over.
• • •
Deep in this winter of electoral discontent, amid the din and barrenness of old, old voices, we are more than usually eager for new sounds and for the music of an unabashed, uncompromised elsewhere. Among the poets we’ve gathered for this spring issue, Elsewhere is wonderfully announced. In the carnelian outcry of Gillian Cummings, in the flexions and bangings of Ann Douglas’s blessed crow, in the brash “wind/flattening the cattails” through Jacques J. Rancourt’s “The Taking of the Earth,” we hear fresh sounds beyond our deserving. As we listen, we may begin to imagine honor, and the warmth of honor, once again.
Featured in This Issue
Erica Anzalone, Charles Baxter, Molly Bendall, Bruce Bond, Harmony Button, Jaya Aninda Chatterjee, Jamison Crabtree, Gillian Cummings, Heidi Diehl, Ann Douglas, Regina Drexler, Jonathan Dubow, Nurdurian Duman, Andrea Dupree, Norman Finkelstein, Stephanie Ford , Barbara Claire Freeman, Rachel Galvin, Daniel Gutstein, Kristin Hatch, Charles Haverty, Julie Joosten, Aubrie Marrin, Joshua McKinney, Michelle Mitchell-Foust, Kelly Moffett, Antonya Nelson, Andy Nicholson, Edward Nobles, Ethel Rackin, Jacques J. Rancourt, Adam Scheffler, Claire Sylvester Smith, Pamela Sutton, Marci Vogel, Eric Weinstein, Jackson Wills