The Greensboro Review Fall 2023 is a collection of poetry and fiction with a few notable stories. The first is ‘Expedition’ by Mike Nees, which is about a man who is determined to go on an expedition to the poles to prove that the earth is hollow. The narrative slowly shows how unhinged the man, Justin, is in his adoption of other fanciful conspiracy theories. Another story I enjoyed was ‘Goblin’ by Robert Stone with its eeriness and reference to an imaginary goblin between a father and son. It had some striking images with the decomposed food behind the oven being one of them. The final story I enjoyed was ‘Men with Guns’ by Ania Mroczek for how oddly the speaker has a fixation on guns and the men who own them. Later on, it’s revealed she has a fascination because of her parent dying in a car crash with guns in the glove compartment. Overall, I enjoyed the way the stories flowed and thought it was an interesting issue.
Final Rating: 4/5
The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor is about a cast of interlinking characters in Iowa City as they navigate grad school at the University of Iowa and life. One of them is a poet that despises his classmates, another is a dancer who then decides to become an investment banker, another is an older closeted man. There are others too that all intermingle and conflict during their tenure. The novel is heavily queer, though in a sense that emboldens and questions the masculinity of its characters. It comments on capitalism, parental wants, love, sex, and art. The characters and its dialogue, whether in a café or bar or classroom, are filled with tension and longing. It has an airy type of quality to it, and seems in some respects to be in conversation and conflict with Lan Samantha Chang’s All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost. Overall, a decent and dramatic read.
Final Rating: 3.5/5
In this issue, the month I was born, there were a few poems I enjoyed reading. Namely, ‘One Possible Meaning’, by Charlie Smith with the final lines, “The park is dusty, dark, yet the children, / ignored all day, play on, convinced their dedication / releases a magic that changes everything.” Another poem I enjoyed was, ‘Veterans’, by Mark Wisniewski. Though, I was a little taken aback at John Brehm’s, ‘At the Poetry Reading’, which accounts a night where the speaker goes to a reading, but isn’t interested in the poems, but rather the wife of the poet. It is hauntingly misogynistic, which makes the speaker somewhat of a distasteful voice. If this was what Brehm was trying to go for, he hit the mark with the lines, “I’m imagining / myself slide up his wife’s fluid”. The poem itself seems self-indulgent with the final lines referring to the speaker as a better poet than the subject of the poem, “once she leaves him, / leaves him for another poet, perhaps, / the observant, uninnocent one, who knows / a poem when it sits down in a room with him.” All in all, there were some hits and misses in this issue.
Final Rating: 3/5
Flux by Jinwoo Chong is a novel about a man, Bo, who loses his job at a magazine company and gets recruited for a job at a company that promises a life-long battery. His introduction to the company is one that is oddly timed with a man, Lev, offering him a job right after he falls down an elevator shaft. At the company, he begins his commute and at 9am, losses his memory of what he did for that day. The story of a younger Bo is threaded throughout, who loses his mother after she is run over by a bus three days before Christmas while bringing him his lunch. Bo is continuously filled with guilt from that moment, and fights with his brother, Kaz, runs away from his home, and then falls and rips open his wrist. Another character, Blue, which turns out to be Bo, decades after his time at the battery company, is preparing to do an interview telling the world the scam the company was running. One day at work, after getting a mysterious alarm on his phone, Bo follows its instructions, which was to use 1% milk in his cereal. This then reveals he is able to visit memories of his life and affect them, essentially becoming a time traveler. Once Bo finds out, he tries to warn his coworker, Ry, but she is then taken by the company and killed with two of her friends. The deaths kick-start in investigation into the company, where the scam and misgiving are revealed. At the interview location, Bo tries to recreate his time travel and is successful. He sets in motion setting his younger self’s alarm, goes to his father right before he has a heart attack and apologies for how terrible of a son he was, brings his younger self back home when he ran away, and finally goes to save his mother from being killed by a bus. Bo is obsessed with a character in a detective show, Raider, which features an Asian cast, but is all the while tinged in racism. Bo converses with the fictional character throughout the novel, explaining his situation, and frames it in the context of the show.
Flux is a dazzling display of Chong’s use of timelines, threaded narratives, and the surreal. The conversing with the Raider character is such a powerful framing device and reminds me of how Matthew Salesses uses something similar in The Sense of Wonder. I also like how the figure-head of the battery company, Io Emsworth, is a pretty good analog to Elizabeth Holmes. But what I am most astounded by is how intricate the timelines coalesce with Bo becoming the Jacket Guy, the phone alarms, and the memories (as with the rest of the novel). There had to have been a lot of planning on the back end on how everything would be put in, and it’s still a wonder to me how well its sense of time bends while reading. I highly recommend this book as Chong’s ability has shown he is a master at his craft.
Final Rating: 5/5
All is Forgotten, Nothing is Lost by Lan Samantha Chang is a novel about two poets trying to survive and make it during grad school and after. Their instructor, Miranda, is seen as a cold and exacting professor who is impenetrable. Roman comes to her for help on his poetry, which then blossoms into an affair, and leads to him winning a prestigious prize. Bernard is also in love with her, but tames himself as he struggles to write his one long poem. After grad school, Roman and Lucy, another student of Miranda’s, get married and have a child. They raise him while Roman teaches composition at a university. Throughout all this time, Roman is continuously questioning his ability as a poet, wondering whether it was Miranda’s love for him that made him win, or if his work was truly groundbreaking. Over a decade later, Lucy and Roman welcome Bernard into their home because he has nowhere else to stay. This is where, among other things, Roman reads Bernard’s manuscript and is envious of how great it is, Bernard reads Roman’s manuscript and doesn’t like it, and Roman and Lucy have a falling out. Lucy and Roman then divorce following Bernard leaving their home, Roman receives the Pulitzer for the poetry manuscript Bernard didn’t like, and their son, whose goal was to play in the major leagues, loses that chance after an injury. At the end, Bernard is dying of lung cancer, and Roman returns to talk with him about Miranda and their friendship during college.
This novel is acute with its internality of Roman and Bernard, and I was enraptured with the way Chang describes their longing. The characters continually question their self-worth, and in the end, the reader is left believing that Roman sees Bernard as the better poet. It’s a heartbreaking, but precise look at how life unravels for two writers after they meet.
Final Rating: 4/5
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang is a collection of surreal and sci-fi stories which challenge the understanding of the world. There’s the well-known story, ‘Story of Your Life’, which was adapted into the movie, ‘Arrival’. That story was certainly an amazing read, with its use of past and present tense, its discussion of language and time, and the way it portrays love. Other stories I admired in the collection were, ‘Tower of Babylon’, about a structure so tall it touches the heavens, ‘Understand’, about a man who receives a drug enhancement to become smarter than anyone else in the world, ‘Division by Zero’, about a professor who learns that any number can equal any other and its implications, and ‘Hell is the Absence of God’, where angels come down and grant miracles but also create destruction in the process.
The collection is a mind-bending foray into science fiction I hadn’t necessarily read before. Some of the stories take interesting forms and structures, and the science explanations are thoroughly researched. Throughout, it was an interesting collection to read and think about.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
In the 1970 March issue of Poetry, there were a few poems I enjoyed. ‘The White Hotel’ by Richard Shelton has the lines, “that memory is the only / kind of loss we ever know”, which I thought was a strong way to end the poem. The only other poem that I found held me was ‘On Earth’ by Michael Benedikt which has an interesting indentation. However, on the whole I found it a little lackluster. Some of the commentary was interesting, but didn’t bring the pizzaz I associate with late 60’s / early 70’s type poetry.
Final Rating: 3/5
Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart is a novel about a boy, Hugh “Shuggie” Bain, living in Glasgow whose mother is an alcoholic, while he is questioning his sexuality. Shuggie initially lives with his mother, father, grandmother, half-brother, and sister. His father, Shug, is a taxi driver who, it turns out, was sleeping with a lot of other women. Shug makes the family move from their place in Sighthill to Pithead, a run-down miner’s town. Then, Shug abandons the family to live with another woman who worked at the taxi company. Throughout all of this, Shuggie’s mother, Agnes, drinks their money away and, many times, tries to kill herself. At Pithead, Shuggie learns he is different from the other boys with the way he walks, talks, and is called terrible names (in addition to being forced to give another boy a handjob and is touched by a taxi driver). By this time, Shuggie’s older sister has moved to Africa and Leek, Shuggie’s older brither, is distancing himself from Agnes. Agnes at one point, however, decides to get sober and gest a job working the night shift at a gas station. She does well for a little while, meets a man named Eugene, and goes to AA meetings. However, after her one-year anniversary of being sober, Eugene invites her to dinner and convinces her to have a drink. From there, Agnes’s drinking worsens and causes terrible pain for Leek and Shuggie. Eventually, Agnes and Shuggie move out of Pithead to start a new life on the East End, but it doesn’t work out. One night, after much drama, Shuggie is in the middle of helping his unconscious mother, when she chokes on her vomit and dies. The final scene is with Shuggie and his new friend, Leanne, helping her alcoholic mother with changing her clothes because she is homeless. In the end, the realization on Shuggie’s sexuality seems to be the light at the end of the tunnel for him.
This novel is expertly told through its Scottish dialect, its acute descriptions of alcoholism, and the way it depicts Shuggie’s sexuality. It’s a novel about abuse, poverty, queerness, drugs, but it’s also about love. There are mentions throughout, and some scenes where Agnes’s abuse shows through, such as her blackout night in the back of a taxi, or her under a pile of coats in a bedroom. And the final scene really was intense, showing that had Agnes continued on her path, she would’ve been just like Leanne’s mother and he would’ve been just like Leanne. It’s a heartbreaking and tender novel and I enjoyed it throughout.
Final Rating: 5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.