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October 21, 2010

We read The Dalhousie Review

In The Dalhousie Review Summer 2010 issue, editor Anthony Stewart writes that the magazine has started a return to its roots: the print issue design has been streamlined to fit with the magazine’s online presence (though I have to admit the blah minimalism seemed lacking to me, but alas); digital archives will soon be available back to 1921 when the magazine was born (fabulous); and though they continue to publish high quality prose and poetry, there has been a shift in their non-fiction from academic to more general-interest, which had been the intention of the magazine’s first editor 90 years ago.

Though they’re still mid-shift, I suppose. Jason Holt’s “Partworks” begins with promise– a list of great works of art, “all deservedly famous, all provocatively unfinished.” He then attempts to find a place for these works within aesthetic theory, but I confess that I didn’t understand anything in the entire piece. I think I became officially lost at, “If trying to preserve an intuitive view of partworks as occupying a middle-ground between non-artworks of the quotidian kind and bona fide artworks has such drastic theoretical consequences*…, then this might be taken as a reductio of the intuitive view.” (*I love the idea of “drastic theoretical consequences” though– what might they be? Getting your Adorno in a knot?)

Philip Beidler’s “History and Memory in the Great War Paintings of John Singer Sargent”, on the other hand, is accessible, fascinating, and accompanied by colour prints(!) of three of the paintings. Beidler takes into account the different nature of Sargent’s commissions, who they came from (British vs. American), and when in his career they came in order to understand the diversity of his WW1 portrayals. This is exactly the kind of stuff the Dalhousie Review should be after– devourable to those of us who didn’t know John Singer Sargent from a sewing machine, but after we’ve read it, we do.

Many of the stories in this issue take on “History and Memory”, as Beidler does. Julia Zarankin’s “The Fabric of Nostalgia” ruminates on language, letter writing, and how we assemble ourselves and others from words written on a page. (Full disclosure: Julia is my friend. I thought she was brilliant before she became my friend, however, so my bias means less than one might think.) Lynda Archer’s “A Heart in Saskatoon” takes what could be saccharine premise (a woman going to meet a man who long ago received her dead brother’s heart), and enlivens it with a dose of suspense and an interesting treatment of heart imagery. Andrea Bennett’s “The Falls” is also a reflection on the past, and though the story lacks depth where we’d like more, Bennett skirts cliche in all the right places and her ending is absolutely perfect. Alexis Lachaine’s “Gas” is situated in the present, but a present that is decidedly fixed and sepia-toned, backward looking (though less so than it supposes– something is going to happen, but this is not the point), and featuring some of the strongest writing of the bunch. Patrick Hick’s “Buster” was a small town hockey story that reminded me of Finnie Walsh.

Two other stories in the magazine were “Napoleon’s Eyes” by Vanessa Farnsworth, and “Dress Up” by Drew McDowell, both unconventional domestic comedy/tragedies. In the former, a wife watches her husband desperately try to insurance payout, putting their lives and home at risk in the process. McDowell’s story is about a husband who follows his wife too far into drugs and risque sexuality, and features two truly stunningly powerful moments, but lacks a satisfying ending.

(The poetry didn’t do it for me. I must say that I didn’t work very hard to make it do it for me, so the fault is probably my own rather than the poetry’s)

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of postings on literary magazines, as I venture outside of my comfortable subscription list for a single issue of something that’s new. I’m pleased to picked this one up, and to glimpse a magazine in transition, in the hands of an editor whose vision and passion underlies the entire issue.

3 thoughts on “We read The Dalhousie Review”

  1. Panic says:

    Do you read Room? I admit, I’ve fallen out with it since the name change, but I really should go back to it. There was always something really comforting about digging into a new issue.

    1. Kerry says:

      I do! Am reading it right now. I like the mix of writers new and established, and non-fiction and interviews. Also, an absolutely beautiful design.

  2. Julia says:

    Thanks for reading my story!

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