Sonora Review intern Brandon Schaller reviews The Missouri Review.
The Missouri Review’s Fall 2013 theme of transcendence comes through in the content’s firm and sometimes relentless grounding in realism, as expressed by characters, muses, and entities who struggle to move beyond their pre-transcendence states.
In the foreword, editor Speer Morgan writes, “the desire to rise above or pass beyond, in whatever form it takes, comes from and in some sense contemplates its opposite—the ensnarement, predicament, and mortal quagmire of normal human existence.” The first story in the issue—Alex Taylor’s “The Blood Old and Strong”—embodies this sentiment. Waldreve, a proud old father, comes into conflict with his urbanized sons who flinch at the flaying of a hide. The trio traps an alpha coyote with “blood old and strong,” and Waldreve, rather than just shoot it, wants to somehow defeat it, kill it properly. When he wakes up to finish the job, Waldreve finds the other coyotes dead in the pen and the big male sitting beyond, covered in gore—transcending death.
Likewise, Alexander Landfair’s essay “Facebook of the Dead” calls for a more thoughtful acknowledgment of death. Landfair claims that Internet culture, unlike other cultures, is not founded on death. He seizes on Facebook as the most mature form of Internet culture, seeing it as “a college contact book stretched far beyond its original purpose.” Now, he notes, the average age of users is 41, and Facebook membership is growing most among the elderly. As the result of this aging demographic, Facebook must increasingly face death, and, according to Landfair, its treatment of death is perplexing and unsatisfying, in part an attempt to ignore the issue. He concludes, “Until death is allowed to exist online, the Internet will grow more plagued by the problem of our mortality, making it richer, stranger, and more complex.”
In Joe Miller’s essay “The Black Saint and the Best-Selling Writer,” Miller details his experience researching a Pentecostal African-American woman, Jackie Story, who searches for transcendence. Jackie Story attempts to ease her financial difficulties by taking part in an elaborate and almost religious pyramid scheme. Despite having to commute almost three hours daily while raising three sons on her own, Jackie refuses to succumb to poverty and attempts to move beyond her economic reality by believing she can overcome any obstacle placed before her. Miller reflects on Jackie’s lifestyle, setting himself, as an observer, in opposition to the transcendence she claims.
Rose McLarney’s “Arcadia” —just one example of the stellar poetry throughout the issue—transcends the singular interpretation. McLarney offers innumerable possibilities, all of which pay homage to the muse. By grounding possibility in the real and secluded (the muse), this poem shows us how transcendence is tied to reality—an old country home provides the architecture for new ideas that continually creep in.
On a lighter note, James Davis May’s poem “Portrait of the Self as Skunk Cabbage” transcends the body by cleverly intertwining the self and the cabbage. He writes “we hated [the cabbage] because it was ugly / reminded us of nothing / but itself and thus / reminded us of ourselves.”
The poems, stories, and essays of the latest edition of The Missouri Review offer a fresh take on transcendence by exploring the underpinnings of the desire behind it and by portraying transcendence in necessary relation to “normal human existence.” I highly recommend checking out this issue.
Brandon Schaller is a student at the University of Arizona. He served as intern for Sonora Review during the production of Issue 64/65.