Pressed

Between the pages of your words is

the heartbeat of deceit      pressed upon

your mind so firmly you

insist its truth                believe it

want it       need it

only to

lose it….

New Talent and Heavy-Hitters: California Lit Mag is a Two-Hundred-Page Gem

Review of Santa Monica Review, Fall 2015

Featuring fiction and non-fiction only, this literary arts journal had me gripped from start to finish. Authors, mostly seasoned with a sprinkle of budding writers in the group, seemed to be writing thematically about relationships of various degrees and from personal experience.

The exception to this would be the one non-fiction piece by by Peter LaSalle entitled “Two Things I Know About the So-Called Writing Life as the Years Trudge On.” However, after some thought, that too, was about relationships as well. Perhaps not the conventional ones we think of but instead ones more concrete like his relationship with the French Poet, Charles Baudelaire or to be more exact, A Postcard of Baudelaire, the title of his first thing learned. His description of the second thing he learned, Editors and Dying, was relatable to me and probably every other writer out there, which is the ever-changing relationships with editors. As someone who has been writing for over twenty years, I could relate to his feelings. On the flip side, as once an editor of an online social media news journal, his recollection of a particular relationship and feeling a degree of (Catholic) guilt was also cleverly conveyed. LaSalle’s personal struggle in this non-fiction piece was real and I appreciated the honesty in it. This piece, which sits comfortably as the last addition to the journal, is not only a well-written piece but one that is heartfelt and relatable.

This two-hundred-plus-page gem, at the cost of $12.00 per year, is published bi-annually by Santa Monica College and only has a spattering of relevant advertising in the back. Additionally, for those interested in possibly submitting, the editors strive to publish and encourage material from writers in Southern California.

Founded in 1988 by Jim Krusoe, editors read all throughout the year and make every effort to respond to submissions in six months or less, although on average they have a two month turnaround time. At the present time they do not accept email submissions.  The journal is distributed nationally.

Not sure if this edition had a specific theme, but all the stories revolved around relationships and striking self-awareness. Some poignant, some tragic and some absolutely endearing. I told myself that I would read half of them due to deadlines, making sure to read the newer authors in the lot, but ended up reading them all.

Let’s start with probably the most uniquely written fiction (borderline prose) that I have read in a long time. University of California MFA graduate and now resident Lecturer, Jonathan Keeperman’s “Dr. Sherry’s Sunset Kayak Partners’ Retreat” left me breathless and not because it was literally one long sentence that did not even end with a period–but because of its intensely written content.  He takes you inside the mind of Grace Molina as she tries to save her unsalvageable marriage to Ray Molina via a weekend Kayak Adventure, aka marriage retreat. Keeperman literally takes you on a ride through Grace’s every thought before, during and after, giving in depth description of the retreat juxtaposed with the thoughts in her head all concluding to an ending that will leave you feeling as if you just rode the rapids yourself. Through vivid writing, he reveals not one but three life-altering shocks that she now realizes had guided her to be on the retreat in the first place. I was so enamored by the piece, I re-read it the following day.

Let’s move on to another work of fiction, one that I felt was endearing. Penned by Michael Guista and entitled “The Bobcat,” this gritty piece follows one man’s journey from guilt to self-resurrection on the afternoon of his wife’s passing.  Over a course of an afternoon, his wife Betty slips in and out of consciousness during what will be her final hours. During this time he relives his life with her and how he failed her as a husband and role model to their daughter Terry through revealing his wife’s heartbreaking past with men and his neglect to truly show her how a man should take care of his wife. As he painstakingly recounts his wife’s decline he comes to the startling realization that it should be him in the bed gasping for air, not her. She was decent and kind and sadly only thirty-eight years old. He was selfish and smoked three packs a day and drank beer every night. He complained that his legacy in the family business was not going in the direction he wanted and clearly resented God for numerous things, one being the fact that his beautiful wife was dying. The other, the predicament he finds himself in as he comes across a wounded and dying bobcat.  He decides the suffering animal should be put out of its misery with the aid of his shovel and he blames God for putting him in the position to have to force the animal’s death. This parallels his feelings about his wife’s suffering, alone, back at their home and although he knows this he continues on with his task. He can help end the suffering of this bobcat but not his own wife. The thought does not hasten his pace to return to her as he knows it will make no difference. Then the story turns and he vows to finish this one thing and with his shovel he ends the bobcat’s suffering and proceeds to bury him in deliberate fashion as if prepping for what lies ahead when he returns home.  This endearing love story, while in appearances may seem brash, is actually one of quiet resolution and commitment to be a better man. To make a difference in honor of his wife and before he even puts her in the ground he vows to show her.

Mr. Guista is a superb storyteller who weaves a tale together with finesse, giving the reader an array of emotions in one short story. I look forward to reading his other work from his new collection-in-progress entitled, County Boys.

Whenever I review a journal, hard copy or online, I like to see who the newer, less published authors are and be sure to give them well-deserved attention. In this review I chose Jeffrey Steven Moskowitz’s piece, “Into This World” and if this story is any indication of his work as a whole, we will being seeing a lot more in print from this author. “Into This World” is a compelling story of one man’s relationship with his brother and the demons within himself. Struggling with the idea that his younger brother is in the process of being accepted to a monastery we experience his feelings and observations about his brother. He sees his change in disposition, his light heart and worrisome days working in the gardens of the monastery while awaiting word of acceptance of his application to join the other monks permanently. Things he, himself wishes he also felt. This engaging story begins with the main character asking a most unlikely question and ends with him opening a car door to answer it, but it’s the story within that captivates the reader.  The beginning and end merely bookends to a bigger picture that examines the concept that everyone truly does have a story to tell and not to look for others to follow, but to follow your own path, answer your own questions…find your own way.

Other must-read fiction in this edition include stories by Michael Cadnum, Susan Berman, Phillip Rowe, Skye Anicca, Andrew Tonkovich, Ann Lohner, Geoff Wyss, MFC Covino, Michael Jauchen, Andrew Porter, Julian Smith-Newman and cover art by acclaimed LA multimedia artist Andrea Bowers.

My rating for this fine collection of literature is 5 out of 5 stars. As a writer, if you are eligible to submit, I encourage you to. Having publication on the pages of the Santa Monica Review would be an honor.

One additional note: I found the journal’s opening synopses to be a graceful way to introduce the following stories as a type of Index for the Contents Page.

Corner Escape

The sanctity of my room has been invaded by the teen across the way this evening. He is playing the drums. Again. He is not bad, however, it is a sign that the house that I adore was built with thin walls as no windows bring in air here nor there. The street lamp filters through the slit of the blind like the sun does every morning due to its placement just to the left of my mailbox and adjacent the STOP sign.  I live on a corner you see.

Never did I think to live on the corner, first house in, at a stop sign no less. Always before it was the end of the street, the back of the cul-de-sac, or the last house on the left. Reference to old movie not intended, just a fact of one of my many previous residences. And I have had more than most, about twenty-three to date. Sigh…

Tremendous thinking on my part to choose this upstairs room, rumored to once be a loft the previous inhabitants chose to close off, to be my office. Or as I like to call it; my escape. I adore it up here. Quiet – scratch that, most of the time it’s quiet. That will no doubt change when school lets out and warm summer days and humid evenings (and parents) will spit out children. Dashing by on skateboards and whizzing past my window on bikes. Squirt gun fights, sidewalk hopscotch games and chasing the occasional runaway dog will be on the daily menu. Fathers gathering in driveways discussing the condition of their lawns while mothers meet with strollers to lead a parade of giggling children to Veteran’s Park or the clubhouse pool. I love it all.

Two months have whizzed by since we landed here on Lighthouse Drive, lighter in possessions but heavy with joy at finding this house despite its precarious location in our neighborhood. First house in, on a corner, next to a stop sign, across from a future rock star and under a street lamp, my corner escape.

 

Broken

Image

 

Everyone there

no one listening

to the breaking glass

inside her

 as she

fell

off the face

of the

                                                      Earth.