The world's full of literary journals. Why read this one? If you want to know about the world, it's all on National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and CNN, isn't it? What can a literary journal add?
Don't look for the answer in The Best of Gowanus's Table of Contents. Look for it in the Author Bios. To take only a few of the 28 contributors: Razi Abedi is from Pakistan, Vasilis Afxentiou from Greece, Arlene Ang from Manila, Anjana Basu Calcutta, Richard Czujko South Africa, Viktor Car and Miroslav Kirin from Croatia, Raymond Ramcharitar from Trinidad. Several others are from India, there's a handful of Yanks, plus assorted jotters-on from places in the world with no fixed address. Apparently they just respond to "Occupant."
Some people leave a rut, some make a mark, some luxuriate in unearned reward,
some crumple under the stubbornness of systems, some sing, some cry. Yet when
the last shovel of dirt is spaded or the pyre done to embers, their little
bundles of personality vanish along with their fleeting, private histories,
blips on a scale whose magnitude they or we may never know. Their meaning is
incomplete because our comprehension is incomplete. And would remain that way
except for two things: the short story and the novel.
Consider the compression to be had in a short story. Here is a wealthy character whose ideas are not original; they were picked up raw from the churning maelstrom of virtuality that the affluent use to deceive themselves into believing life is as it is. There is a beautiful face, skin a blank surface awaiting the scribbles of time. Another is all too aware that he is being cheated out of the last half of his life by the demons he made into memories during the first half. There a woman who can both love and hate, and does both too thoroughly. The type of person whose smile is a storm warning. The celebrity all personality and no self, of somewhat abbreviated intelligence but a nicely cluttered mind, counterpointed with a mind made evil by the fatal inability to trust intellect. An old factory rat who hates being sidelined by technogeeks. On and on, these summations of self, because humanity goes on and on, our cadences swerving between the sonorous and the onerous so frequently because we are unsure if we are living poetry or swearing at the dog. Maybe both.
Many is the great photographer who started off on a Box Brownie, and so here we are in The Best of Gowanus, mulling over the contact prints of character, seeking the picture of a thousand words.
More than mere characters live in these stories. They are, in that part of themselves which is all humans, first a dream, then not, then they are again ("Sister Hanh" by Ly Lan), only this time as vaporous angels, the angels of the keys, angels in the sense of "Mon ange te précédera" -- My angel will precede you -- the ignored part of our own relevance going ahead of us into the future to part its waves for us ("A Feast of Crows" by KC Chase), preceding, going ahead of us, furthering us ahead of the pace of our abilities ("The Long Journey" by Vasanthi Victor; "Jesus Christ Lord of Hosts Discovers Southern California" by Holly Day), while events of the hour play themselves out as if seemingly important in our monkey-brain salad-bar humanity heads ("Parking Ticket" by Norma Kitson). The carnival barker calls on ("Singing in the Wind" by Keith Smith).
In these stories.
In some is the taste of cultures gone rancid ("The Ngong Hills" by Rasik Shah and "London Through the Magic Eye" by Raymond Ramchartiar), scallop-shaped memories in white light ("The Lost Village" --
Lang Lo in Vietnam -- by Le Van Thao), the wire through which happiness flows ("The Burden of Grace" by Vasilis Afxentiou), the sense of life's undoing preordained ("Curses and Poetry" by Anjana Basu and "Diary of a Street Kid" by Fanuel Jongwe), this or that character blocked by not knowing their true worth ("Dalit Literature" by Rezi Abedi and "Spectacles" by Anjana Basu), others a tarantella of quick cuts as the burning finger of the past reaches their heels ("Snapshots of Elsewhere" by Raymond Ramchartiar). The shape of a woman created out of the galaxies ("A Betting Man" by Vallath Nandakumar). The gelatin temple of deeds become brand name (Winnie Mandela portrayed in David Herman's "The Lady and the Tiger"; "The Transformation of Sleepy Hollow" by Richard Czujko).
Everything is real, even the phantasmagoric. Like the paintings of California Realist James Doolin, the "realism" in these stories is skewed in a way that what is seems always lunging forward at an angle, anything but static. A good story tells us of time; what it brings us to know within is untouched by time, and therefore always ahead of it. These accounts are real, yes, close to the surface of the here and now, but also deeper for in their absence of self-interjection, the contrived just-so light and just-so exoticism of the TV tale, nothing artificial, nothing fake, nothing held back. What you feel is not the author's work, it is your own feelings responding to the facts the author sets forth. That's good writing, and there's much of it here.
About half these entries are fiction -- or rather, reality with the clothes of character on -- the rest non-fiction. Some are cryptic enough to be short-shorts. Most have a certain fabulist air about them; all you have to do is change the humans to animals and you have Apulius' Golden Ass or Mr. Toad and friends. The usual baggage of reviewer lingo hovers uneasily above these pages. The stories are lives, not stories; circumstances, not contexts. In the lives on these pages, Levi-Strauss, F.R. Leavis, postmodernism, and semiotics are self-indulgent flatulence. When we know where fear and love come from, we transect them. That's when the stairway appears before us, a hibiscus blossoming out the window casting its hue over what we choose for breakfast.
© 2002 by
Dana De Zoysa for Curled Up With a Good Book