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Many of the selections in this issue have to do with secret lives. This is by accident, not design, as is usually the case with MR. Our experience with the pitfalls of special issues has made us wary of choosing the theme before the contents. In the four months it takes to put together a magazine, it's next to impossible to find two hundred pages of excellent material on, say "children." That's why we don't do theme issues. We explain this to authors when they call to ask what kind of piece to send. They're confused; the cover of the last issue said "Comic Fiction" (or "Love and Danger," or "Greed," or "Generations"). Well, yes, but it just sort of happened that way. We didn't go out looking for comic stories; they came to us. And we certainly didn't turn down any good ones because they weren't funny. A good story--a really exceptional one--is a pearl beyond price. As is a penetrating essay, or poems that astonish. They don't show up in our office every day. So no, MR doesn't "do" themes. Its soul is too miscellaneous. Our editorial practice is to wait and see, accepting the best material we can find and waiting for it to gel--which it always does, though sometimes in surprising configurations.
Early on in the genesis of the magazine you're holding, we seemed to be heading toward an issue about illicit sex (we hope no one is disappointed that it didn't turn out that way). Adultery, prostitution, pedophilia: those were the topics, suddenly, of an unusually large number of our better fiction submissions, the ones we passed around and considered seriously. A couple of these stories made the cut, including "Ray Sips A Low Quitter," Amy Knox Brown's dead-on anatomy of adultery. But in the end, several of the others didn't quite measure up; also, the two poetry features, the essays and several other stories we'd accepted were distinctly un-steamy. What had looked like a budding theme turned out to be a dead end--somewhat to our relief, since if there's any subject that's overplayed in literary magazines as everywhere else, it's sex.
By the time the issue was nearly full, we still hadn't found the cipher that would unlock it. Then a manuscript arrived from Israel, a story as light and economical as the brown airmail envelope it came in. The story was Jerome Mandel's "Another Life," about the mysteries of identity. It was different, intriguing; and so streamlined--proof among the piles of twenty-five pagers that a story doesn't have to explain and develop and show everything, that it's often better, in fact, if it doesn't. We passed it around and talked about it. Decided we liked it. And found that we had our theme.
Secret lives. In a way, all of literature is about them. In fiction and drama especially, where the engine is conflict, the characters' often unsavory or dangerous secret lives may drive the plot. But even when the lives portrayed are thoroughly open and aboveboard, they are nevertheless the creation of an author who mined his or her own secret life to invent them. For the reader, too, literature is a "secret life"--or perhaps it would be better to say that literature enriches the secret lives of its audience. More than with most art forms, the appreciation of writing is a private activity that spurs individual thought--which, of course, is the mainstay of a secret life.
I won't bore anyone with a personal history of reading; dipping into Alberto Manguel's new encyclopedic A HISTORY OF READING brought home to me how typical my experience is. Manguel, an Argentine-turned-Canadian essayist, son of a diplomat, tells of choosing his childhood reading material in the bookstores of Paris and Cyprus. Yet his early reading experiences in exotic locales are virtually identical to my Midwestern ones. Manguel writes: "Reading gave me an excuse for privacy, or perhaps gave a sense to the privacy imposed on me . . . I never talked to anyone about my reading; the need to share came afterwards. At the time, I was superbly selfish . . . . Each book was a world unto itself, and in it I took refuge."
Reading about others' encounters with books is like joining a therapy group, where you discover that what you thought was your own unique weirdness has apparently been cloned. There's something a bit humiliating about being a textbook anything, whether it's a manic-depressive or a runner's-knee sufferer--or a textbook bookworm. But while the general experience of absorbing a text is the same for most readers--(most of us luxuriate initially in the privacy; most of us have the sense of taking refuge in another world) the secret lives we nourish through reading are as varied as those of all the authors whose own secret lives demanded exorcism--or simply expression--in novels, stories, poems.
Anthropologists study humanoid remains to teach us about our physical and social lives. Reading teaches us about our secret ones. JANE EYRE is the fossil--a partial one, at any rate--of Charlotte Bront's psyche circa 1847. We read it for the story; we read it for the art (literary scholars may also read it to find proof of their theories). But we read it, too, for the communion it gives us with the mind of its angry, hardheaded young heroine--and with that of its author, who found herself troubled by a scary question: "What hope is there for a smart and spiritual, but penniless, glamour-less individual trying to survive in an unfriendly world?"
Most of us start out reading to find other minds like ours--and as we get bored with ourselves, wind up searching out minds that are different. That's the great reward and value of reading. It develops our muscles for comprehending others' secret lives--and gives us sensitivity enough to leave them alone.
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In this issue, Ruth Hamel's hair-raising story, "Careful," is about precisely that--leaving someone else's secret life alone. For Hamel's recently married protagonist, her husband's horrible scars galvanize her protective urges, and her desire to know what caused his injuries. Ultimately she must accept the fact that she'll never know, that his secret life before their marriage is his own private property--and his strength. Likewise, Jeff Hammond's essay, "Drummer Man," about the author's teenage experience as a jazz drummer, and Robert Gibb's long poem, "Magnetic North," are about the past--about the kind of secret life each of us treasures in our own personal history as only we can recall it.
Gibb's poem is vividly grounded in the Pittsburgh of his youth. E. A. Hubacker Coleman's short story "Chop Money" is as authentically set in Nigeria. Coleman's American protagonist, a young mathematics teacher is well-known among the locals for his stinginess and seeming cold-bloodedness. In the course of a night he spends with a native prostitute, his secret, a deeply hidden emotional tenderness, is almost revealed.
Marshall Klimasewiski's "The Last Time I Saw Richard" is also about a young man who has trouble with emotional commitment--so much so that for several mature women he dates, he's clearly not husband material. All they want from him is an enjoyable time--and his fertile semen, to make babies. And they definitely don't want him hanging around afterwards, as the father. For Carl the "secret lives" in question are those of the children he may or may not have sired; he'll never know.
We began with the notion of illicit sex, and several of the selections in this issue are about sexual secrets. In Amy Knox Brown's previously mentioned story, a young husband has a hot affair with a fellow law student under the cover of studying with her for the bar exam. At the same time, his wife, who has a secret life of her own (though we don't see much of it) is possibly salting away money, planning to leave him. And in Antonia Clark's first publication, "Family History," the not-so-young husband's secret life is his fantasy of an affair with a seductive neighbor.
Money, not sex, is the subject of Bret Harte's revealing letters, our latest Found Text feature. In November, 1872, in order to make money to pay off the debts he'd run up during his fleeting literary prominence, Harte commenced a series of grueling lecture tours, during which he delivered a speech about the Gold Rush, "The Argonauts of '49," over one hundred times. His audiences had no idea of his financial straits, nor, probably, of how exhausted he was when he appeared before them. He fortified himself for the ordeal with beef tea and champagne--and in between his lectures he vented his discouragement--his "secret life" of debt and fatigue--in letters to friends and family.
Harte was a writer out of choice and talent, and a performer unwillingly, out of economic need. Our interview is with Eric Bogosian, playwright, comic and film star, whose abiding love is performance and who writes largely to generate his own material. Is there any group of individuals whose "secret lives" are more public than those of stage or film stars? We read about their addictions and sexual exploits in popular magazines, we watch them perform in all their "emotional nakedness," and we naively think we know them. We don't, of course. Bogosian sums it up when he says, "I don't think there is a me. And I don't think you, as an audience, will ever get to know who I am."
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Book Description The Curators of the University of Missouri 1996-12-01, 1996. Paperback. Condition: New. 3. 1879758180 In Protective Shrink-wrap! BRAND NEW & PERFECT! Glossy Paperback. Pristine: Clean, shiny, tight & crisp. Delivery Confirmation with all our orders!. Seller Inventory # YD4-079