Alaska Quarterly Review: Welcoming the Season

I’ve heard that more books are sold in the last quarter of the year than in the other three quarters combined, and while the holidays must certainly play a part, I think there’s also something about fall and the prospect of winter that makes us want to hunker down an abudance of good reading material. We’ve said it before, but let’s say it again now that the Fall/Winter edition is on the stands: Alaska Quarterly Review (AQR)is an affordable way to do exactly that.

With a cover price of $6.95, you don’t have to feel guilty if you don’t read it cover to cover. It’s all good stuff – AQR has a well-earned reputation for quality – and you’ll find a huge variety in content and style. My favorites say plenty about me as a reader and writer – I’m more Ann Patchett than Kurt Vonnegut, more Willa Cather than James Joyce.

This issue opens with some remarkable nonfiction, including Dennis Lang’s “Tim,” the story of a wounded Iraqi war veteran told from multiple points of view, including his mother, his girlfriend, and his social worker. In a narrative that manages to be at once poignant and matter-of-fact, it’s easy to forget that you’re not reading fiction: “When Tim woke up he had no idea half his head was missing. Everybody said don’t touch your head or your left eye. So he looked in a mirror and went and got his left eye taken out.” I was also quite taken by Margaret MacInnis’s “The Last Time.” Told in sixteen vignettes with titles like “The Last Time My Father Left My Mother” and “The Last Time I Rocked My Father in My Arms,” it left me with the odd sensation that I’d suspended belief – that this couldn’t be true, though it was.

Of special interest to Alaskans and fans of Alaska is Marilyn Sigman’s “Class Notes: A Short History of Permanence.” Juxtaposing a reunion of her idealistic Stanford classmates with the new reality of global warming, the Alaskan author writes, “I am hurtling downward like everyone else in a material way, my mind stuffed with the artistic and technological creations of my culture that hide my dependence on the strands of a web of relations. What is truly global is that we are all going down together – the Native Alaskan elders in their shape-shifting Arctic coastal villages, the Buddhists, the New Age Posessors of esoteric secrets, the clueless.”

Among the short stories in this issue of AQR, I especially enjoyed Karen Heuler’s “Joey, the Upstairs Boy,” in which an elderly, self-proclaimed “harsh realist” approaches a relationship with the troubled young man who lives upstairs. Another favorite is Scott Nadelson’s “If You Needed Me,” showing with remarkable development of character in the consequences of a grandfather’s near-disaster on each member of the family. I also liked Sallie Bingham’s “Heaven,” in which an aging woman frets over an unlikely vision. I’m not sure how this thread of aging characters plays into my choices, but rest assured: in the AQR, there’s something for everyone.

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