I was stunned by the long first paragraph of “Harmony of the World.” I set down the story and took a deep breath, thinking that if the rest of the story were this well written and as secure in its rhetorical structure, this narrative would fulfill Milton’s prescription for greatness. It would be read appreciatively a hundred years hence, just as in 1980 we read short fiction by Henry James and Stephen Crane, and poems by Emily Dickinson.
Meet the poets, essayists, fiction writers, and translators of MQR 54:4.
“The problem I have with contemporary culture is that today everything is treated as a product. Culture is a huge and shiny supermarket. As all products are announced as ‘brilliant,’ the risk inherent in buying those product falls entirely to me. In that respect, I often miss ‘my butcher’ and ‘my baker’ and ‘my vegetable lady,’ people I could rely on. These days, shopping and consuming—including consuming culture—have become more difficult. In such a context, I behave like any other cultural consumer: I buy books randomly, because I’ve heard of the author or the title, or I know the publisher’s taste, or a friend recommended something to me.”
I do not believe there’s a certain age at which a writer is suddenly prepared to write a memoir, though I sometimes wish the criteria were this easy, this concrete. There are other metrics that could be used: the amount of major events, the degree of trauma or enlightenment, the critical distance the writer has established from the narrative. By that final item, I mean, how close can the writer approach the material before becoming overwhelmed by it or simply unable to draw out its significance. If only this were just a function of time. And if only we could quantify that perfect balance between sentimentality and ambivalence, when the first threatens to make the narrative so saccharine that it’s barely palatable and the second can just make even the most engaging prose flatline.
A special section pays tribute to the work of Charles Baxter: Laurence Goldstein tells of discovering Baxter’s first submission to MQR, Matt Burgess discusses “Forbearance,” Michael Byers lays out a Baxterian taxonomy, Matthew Pitt discovers Baxter’s affinity with Wile E. Coyote, Joan Silber analyzes his use of melodrama, Valerie Laken explores “Minnesota nice,” and Jeremiah Chamberlin interviews the man himself.
Fiction from Beth Thompson, Garret Keizer, Ronna Wineberg, Maria Adelmann, Laura Lampton Scott, Jane Ratcliffe.
Poetry from Timothy Liu, Alessandra Lynch, Raymond McDaniel, Deborah Pope, Durs Grünbein.