Conjunctions 21 Summary

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Conjunctions 21

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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CONJUNCTIONS is a literary journal which, at 360 pages, is considerably more than a “little magazine” and, at $10, delivers lots of literary bang for the buck.

It is nothing less than a showcase for work by some of today’s finest writers, the well-known, the up-and-coming, and the soon-to-be’s. Imagine a magazine or anthology (CONJUNCTIONS is both) that begins with Robert Coover’s work-in-progress, “John’s Wife,” a narrative told in a perfectly (and parodically) flatfooted, tongue-in-postmodern-cheek way, about sexual desire in small-town America, in which the title character becomes less the center of the reader’s attention and more and more yet another of Coover’s brilliantly chosen and exhaustively (as well as hilariously) permutated generative metaphors. And imagine that followed by an excerpt from Carole Maso’s new novel, THE AMERICAN WOMAN IN THE CHINESE HAT (just published by Dalkey Archive) and a little later the title work from John Ashbery’s latest collection of poems, AND THE STARS WERE SHINING (Farrar, Straus & Giroux).

In his selection of writers not yet as well known as these three, editor Bradford Morrow proves no less eclectic and discriminating: Scott Bradfield’s fable of an uprising at the London Zoo which nicely satirizes the Tory obsession with privatization; an excerpt from Scottish writer Janice Galloway’s impressive first novel, THE TRICK IS TO KEEP BREATHING (Dalkey) about a young widow’s efforts to make do, emotionally and monetarily. There is fiction by Chinese writer Can Xue; Japanese collaborative poetry; a scene from Kenward Emslie’s musical HEAVENLY JUNKET, a bit of gay grotesquerie set against American pop culture at its most vulgar; Jonathan Williams’ account of seven Southern folk artists; and the work of ten other poets and fiction writers. All this before getting to the issue’s special feature, “Credos,” which includes statements (some are poems, some fictions, most essays) by fifteen literary notables from Kathy Acker and Robert Creeley to William T. Vollmann and Paul West. The ones by multiculturalists such as Simon Ortiz, Ishmael Reed, and David Mura are especially interesting and provocative. Surely the most disturbing is Paul West. West believes “that we are living in the last epoch of human endeavor in which anyone will attend to style.” If he is right, readers have all the more reason to thank Brad Morrow for his work here.