There’s quite a few good stories in Hobart 10, which was a nice surprise, as this was my first Hobart. The contents of the volume are varied: it includes comics (all of them flimsy), short short stories (none worth commenting on, honestly), and short stories. Looked at from another angle, kudos to the staff for the publication itself, which was nice and robust, but there is some carelessness in copy editing the stories (it gets better toward the end, but some have a heavy helping of typos). Here are brief comments on each of the short stories.
Daniel Nester’s “Mooning: A Short Cultural History” is a dreadful piece that the editors must have considered funny and clever. It gathers random thoughts on mooning: lists, dictionary definitions, etcetera. They’re numbered. I found it insufferably dull.
Claire Vaye Watkins’s “Graceland” may be the best story of the bunch. It’s about a woman who copes with grief about her mother’s death by worrying immensely about the fate of the world (first sentence: “All the great land mammals are dying” ). The narrator has a fascinating relationship with her sister, Gwen, and has a boyfriend, Peter, who’s a scientist. In retrospect, the story seemed to emulate the confessional style, with a biological edge, of “Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing” by Lydia Peelle. Despite that connection, I still enjoyed Watkins’s story very much. The tempo and the casual insights were masterfully executed.
Colleen Hollister’s “Magicians” has a young woman participate in the gargantuan, town-wide mission of moving a river. She is interested in a guy who participates in the task. Not much else was memorable.
Lori Ostlund’s “Upon Completion of Baldness” is narrated by a lesbian whose girlfriend (Felicity) leaves her after a trip to China from which Felicity returns bald (she shaved her head for money, which she later uses for down payments—a car, an apartment—that allowed her to become independent from the narrator). The narrator is supremely controlling (both of her life and of the narrative), and one can see why Felicity would get tired of this. The narrator is an English high school teacher, and there’s a brilliant scene in which her students write on the board that she’s a lesbian. When she sees what they wrote, she ignores the content of the sentence and forces them to correct it so that it’s written properly. There is pathos in how Felicity leaves the narrator. It’s not a great story, but it’s good enough.
Alicia Gifford’s “Gravitas” is surreal. A woman loses her gravity (she starts to float, literally) “as her mother takes to her deathbed” (55). This loss of gravity is narrated matter-of-factly, and the main character has to take measures to prevent floating away. The story ends after the narrator moves to Hawaii, and she has to tie herself to a turtle in order to escape from a volcano eruption. It’s a short tale, and the plot is good. It takes skill to pull off a simile like this: “Millie knows that her mother loved her, but life had worn her out and loved had become a luxury, like a solid gold pen brought out only to sign special documents” (56).
Amy L. Clark’s “Our Lady of Sabattus Street” involves a teenager in a Catholic household, in a school that’s taking measures to prevent fires. Not much dazzled me here.
JoeAnn Hart’s “Location! Location!” is about a deranged sort of character who renamed himself Adam. He lives in the woods, and is watching a dead deer rot away; it was killed by hunters. Adam wonders about all sorts of things, looking for facts (and paying way too much attention to the Farmer’s Almanac). This sense of wonder is implausibly told in present tense, crammed with facts and observations. It felt like a low-IQ version of Beckettian rambles in the Trilogy. There’s a good line: “Some people think maggots are nasty, but if there were no maggots, we would be smothered by the weight of the dead” (91).
B.J. Hollars’s “Gutted” is about a guy who didn’t go to college and gets hired to demolish a few rooms at his old high school. One of his classmates is doing the same thing. Their life unwinds apathetically, picking up high school girls and having a few drinks here and there. The character, pitiably, tries to call old classmates picked from the yearbook, but they’re always gone: in foreign lands, doing stuff. He isn’t.
Mike Young’s “Stay Awhile If You Can” is probably the longest story in the whole journal. It has a hectic, somewhat Pynchonesque pace as a mural painter who works in a card store tells the story of his deadbeat uncle (who got fired as the town’s official mural painter) and his relationship with a tiny but very willful and energetic girlfriend (they get in funny arguments all the time). The story is that: funny. It also manages to be trenchant, as the main characters find themselves in a barn that houses a group of punks (literal punks). As part of the tale’s quick pace, some nouns and adjectives are deftly verbalized, like so: “They [the punk kids] angst around town, driving an outdated police car they bought at an auction” (125); “Seamus lurches up, feebles a fist at Luke and manages to bat away the can” (138). The viewpoint needed fine-tuning; it sometimes speaks directly to the reader, a practice that is invariably difficult to handle (and not done successfully in this case).
Blake Butler’s “Smoke House” is a horror story. As an editor, I would’ve sent it back for another draft. The horror never actually unfolds, and this doesn’t seem to be a clever gnomon but rather the result of a narrator trying to be too clever while the story shivers out of his hands. A teenage boy dies in a fire, one of several that spontaneously start in a house that seems cursed after a baby girl was born. Bad things happen all the time.
And that’s the magazine. By the way, Hobart 11 is out now (or almost); it’s a themed issue, on the outdoors.