>Reading the fiction in Salt Hill 18, I at first thought the magazine was dedicated to coming of age stories. The first piece, “Spying on Mrs. Jenkins” by Amy Hassinger, is about a young girl who learns some hard facts of life by watching her next door neighbors. The next story, “Everybody and Their Houses” by Armand Inezian, also involves a kid, this time one who learns about lying from his parents and in the process jettisons a rare friendship. Both stories are well-written, but stories about kids don’t appeal to me so much and it doesn’t help that they’re the first two stories in the issue.
Victoria Ludwin’s “Jorge’s House of Hair” also involves a kid, but the story is really about a beauty parlor and its unmarried, lonely owner who thinks he might find happiness with the youngster who comes in for the “ugly girl special.” Alix Ohlin’s “Babylon” is also well done (with a couple of glaring editorial oversights that surprised me—I can’t imagine that the author is happy with the repetition of the word “uncertainly” within 3 lines), about a man—also lonely, like Jorge—who meets a woman at a wedding and falls in love with her. There are enough credible twists in this story to make it interesting, and the ending is satisfying as well. Check out this interview with Ohlin in Identity Theory.
But the best story in this issue is the feature story, “Straightedge,” by Matthew Vollmer, about a loser father with a gambling problem who comes to visit his son on the eve of his X-games performance. The kid has gone “straightedge”—shaved head, no drugs, no meat, no sex—and the contrast with the father is clear. The son asks the father about his love life and he replies that he’s seeing someone—but what he doesn’t say is that the someone is a prostitute named Portia.
“I met Portia a few months before, in the laundry room of the hotel where I live—a place I despise so much I go only once a month, toting my thirty pairs of underwear, thirty pairs of socks, thirty undershirts, and the four tropical shirts and black shorts I save for weekends in a cardboard box. I’d been there most of the morning, reading a five-year-old copy of People I’d found curled behind one of the dryers so I wouldn’t have to make eye contact with a hooded boy in a Raiders parka, who twisted a Rubick’s Cube while his whites dried. When Portia entered, she was wearing pink knee-high boots, a tiger-print skirt, a yellow jacket made of plastic and a long blonde wig.”
Vollmer does a Paris Review reading on Salon which is worth listening to.
The issue also includes an interview with Bob O’Connor and an essay by Daniel Torday about Jonathan Safran Foer, as well as lots of poetry. Although I wasn’t wowed by the magazine, it does seem like it will be worth another look.
Next up: One Story