For my full-length review, please visit Casual Debris.
This particular issue features eight short stories, an author interview and a brief essay, and I was immediately impressed with the first story, Stephanie Dickinson's "A Hole in the Soup." The story deals with a young woman trapped in a hospital in New Orleans immediately following the flood. Not only does the story have a spectacular title, but the prose is solid and the situation more than gripping. Not just the strongest piece in the issue, Dickinson also provides the best entry among "The Last Pages," with a great photo of her dad and a genuinely touching caption. "A Hole in the Soup" proved to be by far the strongest piece in the issue, and really only one of two worth reading. The second is the following piece, Lauren Groff's "Delicate Edible Birds." It is a good story but drags a little at times and the protagonist can be somewhat uninteresting; it nonetheless has some strong moments and is well written.
The rest of the stories are forgettable.
There is a first-time published writer here, Joshua Canipe, whose "Preacher Stories" is dry, the prose generic and the characters uninvolved. Canipe's caption for his photo is the best in the collection among childhood photos; unfortunately someone screwed up and the photo that was supposed to appear with his caption in "The Last Pages" was omitted. Ed Allen's "Krakenhaus" is familiar and too self-involved. Mirian Novogrodsky's "Just Enough Food to Remember" is one of the two weakest of the bunch, as it tries to structure itself around a series of oddly-titled vignettes, a trope that is more irritating than neat, and does little more than distract from (yet another) self-involved piece. Scott Nadelson's "Aftermath" is the longest story though among the quickest to read. It is written in a clear style and is not a bad story. It deals with a married couple agreeing to a "trial separation," told through the point of view of the man. While it has some nice moments and interesting character relationships, it is too long and the protagonist is a little whiny to be sympathetic. This is followed by "Blind Spots" by Erica Johnson Debeljak, a story with some interesting ideas strung together with some dull writing. This is unfortunate because the concept here is interesting, about a boy who can only see peripherally, told through the point of view of his mother. The point of view weakens the story as it becomes about the mother and her own struggles and grief, victimizing her, rather than being about the boy himself. David Allan Cates's "The Rubber Boy" is the other weaker piece. It is a catalog of a man's life, asking why do I endure, which is followed a single event that gives him reason to endure. The last story, "Toward a Theory of Blindness" by Beth Aria Sloss, is uneven yet interesting at certain points.