Friday, September 23, 2011

“Exactly What to Say” (By: Chidelia Edochie) – Camera Obscura

This is one of the shorter prose pieces in Camera Obscura’s third volume. It is told in first person from the perspective of a girl who is being followed home by a man. She describes their shadows and how the shadows seem to overlap each other as if the two of them are touching. He ends up confronting her on her steps, realizes that he made a mistake in thinking she was someone else, and walks away. Although she did not want the two shadows to be intertwined at first, now she can no longer look at her shadow the same way because it seems lonely.

This piece was absolutely stunning. In just a few short pages, the author created a delicate character that embodied a universal sense of loneliness and doubt. Chidelia’s details of the shadows, how the thin fingers would become muddled if overlapped into each others shadows, creating this sense of unwanted and unknown unity, were such that I was truly able to picture such a moment happening. The concept was creepy – a man following a girl home, keeping the same pace that she kept as she walked, but at the same time, there was this sense of comfort and realness. I am truly in awe of her ability to make me think about relationships and how someone can come into your life unexpectedly and leave this fleeting mark that somehow lasts forever.

- Jennifer A.

"Managing the Future"- Alexis de Tocqueville, in Lapham's Quarterly

The current issue of Lapham’s Quarterly is about The Future. Different predictions of the future, thoughts, hopes, dreams, etc., throughout time are shared, some horribly bleak, others remarkably bright. The piece out of this quarter’s issue that I decided to focus on is called “Managing the Future,” by Alexis de Tocqueville.

One of the reasons why I found this essay so interesting was because it’s about the American government and American Nationalism, yet it was written in 1840 by a Frenchman about his brief nine month stay in America. Tocqueville’s take on America is scathing, to say the least. He says that while American politicians always speak of The Future in a lofty and optimistic manner, when it comes to actually doing things that will pay off later (and possibly not now), they don’t. According to him, not only are American politicians truly nearsighted, but they will surrender themselves endlessly to the casual whims of daily desire and that they will abandon entirely anything which requires long-term effort, thus failing to establish anything noble or calm or lasting.”

The reason this essay stuck out to me was because it’s a problem I still see in this country today, even though Tocqueville was observing this in the 1830s, and I think I can safely say that I am not the only one. The call for practicality and teamwork in Tocqueville’s piece was a message that I’d like to see applied today, even though by now Tocqueville was hoping we’d be there already.


The Fall from Paradise: A Look at Aimee Bender's "Appleless." ---Jen G.

In Aimee Bender’s short story “Appleless,” in The Blue Issue of Fairy Tale Review, an anonymous narrator and his friends are fascinated by a woman who refuses to eat apples. Their lives revolve around the apple orchards and constantly describe their hunger and pleasure in eating the colorful fruit, thus, the narrator and his cohorts want none other than to have the woman join them. Initially, I na├»vely believed that “Appleless,” was playing with the idea of examining the life of person who did not enjoy one of the most stereotypically common foods in literature and reality. As probably the rest of the world noted immediately, however, “Appleless” is rife with sexual under and overtones, focusing on the questions of temptation and innocence, elements that I managed to miss until the shocking climax of the story. Despite their pleading and persuasion, the woman refuses to try an apple, and so one day, the narrator and the other men are overcome by their “hunger,” and rape the girl. At the story’s end, the narrator speaks of his longing for the woman to return, his stomach rumbling as apples fall to the ground unwanted and untouched.

The world of “Appleless,” is more like the darker side of the Eden myth; rather than Eve tempting Adam with the apple, it is the narrator and his comrades who are the bringers of temptation, and in this case, bring about their own fall from Paradise. The woman refuses to even walk through orchards, choosing instead to maintain her course on the dirt road. In a sense, the nameless, shifting narrator, who moves between “I” and “we” in his observations, has already fallen; though he and his companions seem to be enraptured by apples, noting the “steaks of woven jade and beige,” (30) the “dark and rosy Rome Beauties,” (30), they remain unsated, never venturing beyond their grove and excess. When they rape the girl, not only do they allow their lusts overwhelm themselves, but they destroy the only true beauty and innocence in their world, completing their fall. The apples fall around them, listless wraiths starving beneath the trees.

I hate to use this phrase, but there is definitely more food for thought in the deceptively short two pages of “Appleless.” There are so many levels of symbolism and allusion ranging from Biblical themes to medieval mythology to Grimm fairytales. I would be interested in thoughts and opinions on the story; six read-throughs later, and I think I have only begun to scratch the surface. The text is available at

“The Beginning: Why Most Stories Get Rejected” by J.F. Benedetto, MWA, from Calliope

I was drawn to this article because it is the only non-fiction piece in the current issue of Calliope (available online at After having read it, it seems that this would be more accurately labeled if it was under the heading of Advice Columns focusing on How to Get Published. In a sentence this piece says, “Make the start of your story interesting or don’t bother,” and while I don’t disagree with the fact that the beginning of a story should be interesting, it sounded in my head like Benedetto was asking his readers to sell out. He made it clear that if a story doesn’t start in medias res it will never be read by publishers.

One example Benedetto used was a story starting with five pages “detailing the ecosystem of uninhabited Planet Zervim III” which he would rather have start with “just five sentences explaining that our protagonist is a used-robot salesman taking passage on a commercial starship and that he’s just been marooned by aliens on an uninhabited plant for reasons he does not understand.” I could not help but think of Hollywood, car chases and explosions. I wondered why the ecosystem of Zervim III couldn’t be the most interesting start to a story. It could be that the differences between that ecosystem and our own make it interesting to read about. Maybe I’m a bit too much of a science nerd, but I’d love to read that.

This being said, it might be that five pages is too long, or that the story stands a better chance of being immediately engaging the way Benedetto wrote it , but I just don’t believe that the only way a story can be worth reading is if it starts in medias res.


Canteen - Julie Kelly

The 3rd Issue of Canteen is available in digital form on their website and is essentially the same as viewing a catalog online. One section that I really enjoyed looking at were the photographs by Martijn Van De Griendt titled "Returning Thing." It is a series of pictures that depict different people smoking cigarettes in various places. Some of them are looking at the camera while others are. It is cool how the series of photographs are essentially in the middle of the journal, or at least in between works of prose and poetry.
The first picture is of a group of girls, one with curlers in her hair, who are at a carnival or fair of some sort. The only visible cigarette is in the blond girl with the curlers’ hands and she is also the only one making eye contact with the camera. I’m assuming that the three of them are all smoking together, since that’s usually what smokers do - it is largely a social event for many people. These girls seem to be about 17 but most likely wish to be much older and believe smoking cigarettes is a way to seem more mature. It’s interesting how none of them are making eye contact, except the one girl whose cigarette is visible. I think these photos really make the viewer think and instill different emotions amongst different people, depending on their feelings about smoking. I do like how the photos are placed in between works of prose and poetry and think that it would be fun if we could do that with Popped.