March 2008

Cynthia Reeser

fiction

NOON edited by Diane Williams

Including eleven stories, two essays, and photography by Bill Hayward, literary annual NOON rides the edge of the cheeky abstract with its 2008 issue. Bill Hayward’s photographs are visual essays in personality brought out in part by the subjects themselves -- he invites the writers, artists, producers, actors and designers he documents to interact with the canvas by creating the backdrops themselves. One photograph, of landscape designer Linda Iverson, poses her sitting between two trees: the trees are barren and grow equidistant to one another. With Iverson positioned with one arm wrapped around the tree in the right of the frame, and bird-like objects situated on the limbs, the balance of the subject holds direct contrast to the imbalance created by the laden tree. This photograph in particular represents the overall balance/imbalance and divide this issue exemplifies.

The divide comes into play where some of the writing is abstract and the rest more lucidly narrative. Deb Olin Unferth’s story, “It Could Be as Many as Nine,” falls into the latter category. A wonderfully humorous work narrated from the perspective of a man surrounded by (as many as) nine mothers, including his current wife, ex-wife, two daughters, mother-in-law, his mother, and three female poodles, plays on the premise of the henpecked husband who in this case is not only suffocated but also surrounded by femininity.

Two stories by Clancy Martin, a frequent contributor to NOON, unfortunately occupy the bulk of the journal. In “The Body Belongs to Me Now,” as in both pieces, the language feels too formal for the situation, where the protagonist is a former drug addict hoping to get rich from some jewelry acquired by a pawnbroker of questionable reputation. The tone sits uncomfortably astride the situation while the storyline doesn’t play out logically (a woman sleeping on the street possesses valuable jewelry), and the abrupt ending lacks closure.

Most bothersome, however, is the fact that in both Martin’s works, the main character identifies himself as Clancy Martin. “This is How I Got My Start in the Jewelry Business” is identified as an excerpt from Martin’s novel, so it is either a work of fiction or the author is an egotist in the extreme, using his own name for his protagonist. He is unfortunately an uninteresting, unlikable character (Clancy is a thief who is very quick to point out the flaws of others, while excusing his own as youthful arrogance) who goes into pages upon pages of tiresome detail about Rolex watches. The story is further marred by awkward, unconvincing dialogue and, where it begins in detail as a narrative for misguided youth, it ends abruptly in the middle of his life as a jeweler’s apprentice who is, like the character in Martin’s first story, hooked on cocaine.

Most of the remainder of the fiction falls into the abstract category. Flash fiction pieces seemingly without a point or punch line and avant-garde vignettes abound. Happily, Dawn Raffel’s “Coeur” accomplishes with abstraction what most contemporary authors writing in the abstract cannot. “Coeur” is non sequitur but achieves an eerie tone where logic is obscured by lack of detail. With this, the text opens itself to a multiplicity of meaning, yet manages not to yield frustration. During a scene in which the son beseeches his mother to tell him a story, the dialogue portrays what must be happening without any of the usual description, and it is left to the reader to determine the rest, as in this example:

“Mom,” he says. “A story. A real one.”
“Stop it,” she says.
“Get off me,” he says.
“I can’t,” she says.
“Mom!”

With this lack, the story accomplishes possibilities that would not be attainable with the addition of the usual details.
           
Following the story is an essay by Monica Manolescu-Oancea on Raffel’s novel Carrying the Body, a review that speaks to the journal as a whole. Manolescu-Oancea writes of Raffel’s novel that:

…the presence and role of the narrative line are highly ambiguous, if not downright obscure […] one expects and occasionally senses there is a narrative line that insidiously hides and coils here and there in the text. Is this a book “about” something? This “aboutness” is certainly suggested as a mirage or a lure.

As fiction veers more often toward obscure experimentalism, those who read for meaning are sometimes left still seeking the narrative, or narrative line, in work that increasingly sacrifices order for chaos, length for obscurity and meaning for unfounded wordplay. While NOON provides such examples aplenty, it also shows, through stories like Unferth’s and Raffel’s, the possibility and balance that still remain, even across the divide of the abstract and traditional narrative forms.

NOON edited by Diane Williams
ISBN 978-0-9676211-8-0