Thanks to the NC Writers' Network for their Pembroke Magazine blog post. Be sure and check them out, and stay tuned for their Fall 2017 lit-mag themed newsletter.
The Ides of March are upon us, but that's not stopping the jet-setting #49. Check out this growing gallery (send yours in, and we'll add you to the pictorial) of the 2017 edition's travels.
Contributors, readers, subscribers: it's the most wonderful time of the year ... the latest edition of Pembroke Magazine is out in the world. As your copies arrive in your mailbox, consider snapping some pics of #49 hanging out at your favorite haunts. Tag us on Twitter @Pembroke_Mag or post on our Facebook page, and we'll add you to the gallery. Here are a few fun snapshots from #49's debut weekend to get you started.
The (Pushcart) polls are in. Congratulations to our 2016 picks:
C. Wade Bentley, "Not That You Asked" (poetry)
Daniel Lassell, "Clay" (poetry)
Polly Buckingham, "Three of Swords" (fiction)
Katie Burgess, "The Emptiness Walks With You" (fiction)
Dan Gemmer, "Pinon Pines" (fiction)
Gabriel Welsch, "Walking Man" (fiction)
Editor's Note: Readers of the print edition may notice a layout mistake on the last page of "Walking Man" -- an unfinished bit of character dialogue merged into the sentence that follows. We regret the printing error but are happy to provide the full-text, corrected version here.
He walks. Regardless of the weather. He walks along the main four-lane leading from town to the mall, past the Brass and Wicker Works, past the unfinished furniture store, past the bypass interchange, past the shifting neighborhoods high on the hills, past the gas stations and drive-thrus, past the H&R Block and the scraggly garden center, past a gutted and bankrupt Dunkin Donuts, past a trash-strewn Isuzu lot, past a heavy equipment rental company and its bright orange bulldozers, past the coal stink of the ceramics factory, and some days even past the mall, to the long fields sloping toward the prison, where I have heard even some of the inmates have noticed him while staring through their windows. All the people in all of the windows and cars who have noticed him these past many weeks have the same name for him: the Walking Man, and to my ear, despite other problems I have with the designation, it sounds too close to those men of virtue and beleaguered conscience in the movies, The Quiet Man, The Thin Man, The Invisible Man, The Six Million Dollar Man. I prefer, simply, Walking Man. No ‘the.’ Like Burning Man, Tax Man, Superman, Sixty-Minute Man, Zinjanthropus Man. Something mythic, something of a problem, something not wholly right. Because I know he is not wholly right. I know he is not wholly good. Walking Man is my brother.
He started walking in late November last year, on a day when it would have been an easy decision—or easier. Fresh from rain and an unusual push of southern air, amid sun and warmth sufficient that his first jaunt could be done without the need for a coat, he started. At the time, he didn’t care about the weather. Bored and frustrated with his life, he had exploded in a fight with Laura, his new wife. He would have hulked in a corner, his massive shoulders like a dark curtain between her and another room. Eyes dark in their deep sockets, his upper lip a tight line, everything about him would have simmered. He had married Laura because she was able to give it back. As dark as his coloring was, hers was light, but not soft. She was sleek, not slender. White and ashen, not blond and pale. Her hair she wore clipped back. Her fingers, wrists, and neck were never adorned. They would have faced one another across a chasm of insistent quiet. Then, on finding himself stuttering, blushed and speechless, he would have left the little brick house on Oneida Street with the intention of walking until rational again.
I am the one Laura called. After the first hour, she looked outside, figuring he had not gone far. When he was not there, or anywhere in town, she called me. I had been in a late-night last-ditch strategy session with Yuri, the main investigator who ran our cell lab and worked on attracting grants. We were out of money. The meeting revolved around a bottle of vodka kept in one of the specimen freezers, and we sipped and hatched desperate schemes. When my phone rang, we both laughed that it was the call, manna from heaven, and when I saw from the number that it was her, a woman who almost never called me, I stood so quickly my head swam. When I heard her voice, the scratch left over from weeping, I went to talk to her on the scrub of lawn between the lab and the hill leading to the offices of the college’s maintenance crew.
It had not occurred to Laura, to any of us, that he would simply walk for a dozen miles, turn around, and start back. When she called me, she projected strange calm, as if borne of purpose and fatalism. She sounded leaden and expressive at the same time. She finally said to me, “Just look for a little while, because I refuse to chase him any more, but I’m still worried.”
I coaxed my Nissan truck to life. That November, most of what I had was on its last legs. Without the lab’s grants, many of us had begun to dip into savings. My lease expired in December. For the first time in five years, I was set to be jobless, on the hunt again, following the frightening lure of soft money. I tried to buy very few things, and I could not have purchased a truck. To keep it running, I mounted a light fixture under the hood on cold nights, a single 60-watt bulb keeping the hoses loose enough and the battery warm enough that a half-dozen or fewer cranks would get the thing roaring again in the morning. But on weekends, when I resisted going out, when it would not be driven for a day or two, the first start was always about a ten-minute process, sometimes needing a jump from my neighbor, the skid steer operator and tomato gardener. He always rose before the sun, drinking coffee from a thermos, but he never lorded his good fortune over me.
That day the truck almost understood the need for haste. A mere few cranks, some gentle revving, and it was ready. As I pulled onto the main road, I nearly hit my brother, now shivering, in the shadows of the breakdown lane, walking with his bare arms ending at hands jammed in his jeans.
He has been seen walking in construction sites at the edge of town, where they are putting in new stores: Krispy Kreme, an Office Depot, Applebees, PetCo; glimpsed atop parking garages, having scaled the steps to the roof only to circle it twice before descending; yelled to on bike paths deep in the scrub woods under the bypass, scowling his way past Spandex-ed young men calling at him to walk somewhere else; discovered by early rising seniors looking to walk while thrusting elbows back within the vinegary confines of the mall; even silhouetted on the ridge where a highway will someday run, far above the slope of road cresting the highest point in the county. In coffee shops, they discuss how his hair has grown, how it tumbles well past his shoulders now, the dark brown giving way to lighter strands but with a cast of grime, and women say how he was once a handsome man. Men talk about his beard, about how it must itch. Everyone thinks he is homeless, as he wears the same outfit each day. In the summer, a red t-shirt with a pocket on the left side of the chest, worn blue jeans, Asics running shoes. In cooler weather, the same outfit is covered in a Nike jacket with the college’s colors. He never wears a hat, sunglasses, gloves, boots, an umbrella, a ponytail. He never speaks to anyone. He is never seen, like Sid, the other local eccentric, eating from garbage cans or grumbling into the library. No one has seen him relieve himself. No one has ever seen him stand still. If he comes to a busy intersection, he will walk whichever way he can rather than wait for traffic, even if it means he turns entirely around and walks back in the direction from which he had just come.
I could see he was cold, but he refused to get in the car. So I drove beside him, flashers on, enduring horns screaming past me as I rode with one wheel in the traffic lane and one in the breakdown lane. Even right in front of me, even in the glare of the headlights, he couldn’t be seen well. On any curve, another car could have hit him. When we got to side streets, I pulled beside him again, told him several times to get in the car, but he wouldn’t do it. I asked him why, and he just turned to glare at me before returning his attention to the road.
I said, finally, “Your wife is terrified, you know. Is that what you wanted?”
He didn’t yell, but his voice was strong enough that I heard it through the open window, over the noise of the truck, without him looking at me: “You don’t know anything about it, so why don’t you go the hell home.”
“You’ll get hit by a car eventually,” I said.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
After a long pause: “You’re being ridiculous.”
Those were the last words he said to me that day, and for a long time afterward. If I had known that the ensuing weeks would have featured my occasional exasperated drives out to find him, to yell at him from the window, to heckle him while he walked, I would have demanded he keep talking until something halfway adult or sensible came out of his mouth. He decided to act like a seven-year-old, and leave it at that.
For several days, I just stopped by the house. But then I started staying longer, sitting on the defeated brown couch in their living room. I helped her pack his clothes in plastic tubs, so they wouldn’t collect any more dust. I mowed the lawn the last time that fall. I noticed the way her ashy hair fell into her eyes, how she had never pierced her ears, how she polished her nails only with clear polish. I helped her shovel out on a few snowy days. I washed her car a few times. I fixed a loose door hinge and a cracked sink trap. I noticed how her eyes and the set of her mouth could fix a person to a spot. I began to see what my brother saw. When I stayed one night to watch a movie with her, I awoke the next morning sprawled on the couch, an afghan over me. At breakfast, the neck of her bathrobe gapped such that I saw the ridge of muscle leading from her shoulder up to her neck. I noticed how slender were her fingers.
Finally, it happened. A van full of frat boys drove up one late afternoon as he walked near the prison. They flung open the door, pulled him into the van, and sped off. They beat the crap out of him, leaving him with a broken rib, pulp for a nose, a fractured eye socket, and a broken arm. They left him outside a cigarette outlet a few hours later, bleeding into the pavement, his breath clouding tiny puffs in the frigid air. One of the women who witnessed him being kicked from the back of the van told the newspaper, “They rolled him out the back, and he didn’t even scream when he fell on the pavement. They took off so fast to get out of there they almost hit my car.” She cleaned hotel rooms for a living, had done so in Miami before moving north to live with her sister, said she was not easily shocked. I asked her repeatedly if she had any chance to see their faces. She shook her head. “Bandanas,” she said. “They dressed like bandits.” It was not until my brother regained some of his health that he could tell us it had been a frat prank, that the boys were too drunk to keep that part to themselves. He didn’t know which house had done it.
The hospital ordered psychiatric evaluations due to the trauma of the beating, but when Laura and I told the attending about the walking business, they ordered a new round of questioning. The doctors would only talk with Laura about the questions. Whatever answers he gave, they never told us. We only saw them in the hall, running hands over and through their short hair.
We watched them as we sat on a hard couch near his room. While they murmured, she leaned into me, as if her strength had finally stepped out of her. Her arms took me in then, wrapped my waist, and as she shook with sobs, she pressed tighter. Her embrace felt better than it should have, better than I should have let it. I wanted to move away. Instead, I let my arm fall across her back, to pull her into me. She slid closer on the couch and wrapped one arm up around my neck. My cheek pressed into the top of her head. She smelled, to me, like a home, a sudden reminder of what I missed. I found myself wondering if she would kiss me, simply from the strength and near desperation of the way she held me. When she broke away, her face was all apology, even though she wouldn’t meet my gaze.
Sometime in the early morning, three days after the attack, he left the hospital. I can imagine a single nurse trying to chase him, or hollering after him, but I know he recovered his strength quickly. The walking had put him in the best shape of his life. He would only have needed to jog a little to outpace nearly anyone there.
The doctor who called us had not handled any aspect of the case other than dressing my brother’s injuries. His assurances were only that with a person as strong as my brother, it was likely the injuries would give him no further trouble; he had probably recouped sufficiently. Everything he said was soaked in irony, and he didn’t know it. When I put down the phone, Laura padded out of her bedroom. She looked at the rumpled couch, at the front door open for air, at me already dressed, but didn’t ask about the call. She knew. “He left, didn’t he?” When I nodded she went back into her bedroom and I didn’t see her again for two days.
The day he left the hospital, I drove out to find him and, to my surprise, when I saw him, he did not appear to be carrying anything to defend himself.
I drove as close to him as I could, trying not to run him off the edge of the road, but also trying to get off the road as much as possible. My hazards blinking, I followed him for about a mile. His shoulders glared back at me.
I pulled up beside him and rolled the passenger window down. “I’m living in your fucking house now. I’m taking care of things, watching out for Laura.”
A muscle in his neck jumped.
“Do you hear me? I am living in your house.”
After a moment, he said, without looking at me, “Don’t talk to me from your fucking car. You want to talk to me, you come out here and talk to me. Otherwise, we got nothing to say. You’re wasting your time.”
I wanted to cry, to run him down, to laugh, to scream at him. He had spoken to me. I wanted to say his wife’s name to him again, to hurl it at him like stones, like a handful of sand to get in his eyes, like a bomb. As I inhaled to yell it again, I stopped. It might have been the semi bearing down and beginning to swerve out to go around me. It might have been the dip in the road I could see coming. Or it might have been the realization that I could have made him worse then, could have said the name again in trying to get to him, and then really gotten to him. When I returned that evening and told Laura about the exchange, nothing registered in her face.
About two weeks after the hospital situation, Yuri called me on my cell. High-pitched and rushing, he told me the cell presentation had been a success, that the foundation director had been away for a while, but that during that time he had read an article on labs in Singapore doing similar work with cell matrices, saw industry potential, and had rushed back with the intent of funding us. For three years. I nearly dropped the phone. Three years of funding. I had visions of a new car, something modest, yes, a Civic probably, but still. Three years of no questions, few worries, some certainty, maybe a small house. Three years.
As I exulted in the good fortune, Yuri said, “Listen, it is only three years. We still have to start thinking now about the fourth year, or even the first month after the grant period. This isn’t over.”
“It’s over for a while,” I said. “We have time to breathe and do some work.”
“Do some work, sure, certainly,” Yuri said. “But we still have to think ahead.”
“We can toast the fact that we are working with more security.”
He chuckled. “You’re right, I guess. It could be worse. It could have only been a year. It could have been federal and all those hoops. I could be without a house. I could be that walking guy—have you seen him? Out on 26 every day.”
I wanted to say something, my head a sudden thatch of retorts, insults to throw back, of questions about how he didn’t know Walking Man was my brother.
Instead, I sighed and said, “This is great news, really. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.” He may have said something else, and I thought I heard some protest in his voice as I pushed END, but he didn’t call back, and I didn’t stay at the lab. I went home, surveyed my now dust-rimed possessions, breathed the stale air of a house that might as well have been dead, and then drove to the Honda dealership and began talking with a young man about ten years my junior wearing a nicer suit than I have ever owned.
When I drove back to Laura’s house that night, the car felt great, the drive felt emboldening, and I felt decisive. When I strode in the door, she sat at the kitchen table reading People and eating a granola bar, still in her waitress uniform. She looked up, and I inhaled once before saying, “Are you holding out on me?”
“What do you mean?” she said.
“You’ve said all along you’re not sure why he is so angry, why he is persisting,” I said, “but it feels like you would have to know something, something I could use to talk to him, something that could make him stop.”
“Nothing, then? Not a thing? Nothing to get your husband back?”
After a moment, she said, “Maybe I don’t want him back.” As she said it, her face twisted to keep from sobbing.
I resisted the urge to hold her. I made myself stay rooted to where I stood.
After a moment, I said, “You don’t mean that.”
Crossing her arms, she said, “You have no idea about it.” Then, a moment later, “I want you to leave. You have a house. Go there.”
When I left, an hour later, I was surprised to see how much stuff I had moved over to that house. I unloaded the car’s contents to just inside my kitchen door, in a house that had begun to look strange to me.
The next day, a Saturday, I woke before sunrise. I drove to the 7-Eleven near the house but out on 26, bought coffee, ate a too-moist breakfast sandwich, and filled the tank with gas. I lingered at the magazine rack. I kept an eye on my watch. I left the store, locked up the car, and leaned against it, watching the small rise to the east as my breath fogged around me. I retied my old sneakers, snugging the laces, marveling at how buoyant they made my feet feel, wondering when last I had worn them. Mostly I watched the hill, until about a half hour past dawn, I saw his fast-moving silhouette crest and darken against the red sky behind him. I strode out to the edge of the highway, scuffing at the gravel while I waited for him to descend the long slope. When he saw it was me, he picked up his pace and then abruptly crossed the four lanes of highway. I followed him and we were both aware that I was now committed.
He walked quickly. Soon, I was breathing heavily, forced to jog every few steps to keep up to him. Before long, my calves started to sting and a persistent stabbing pain had begun in the socket where my thigh joined my torso. At first, I thought about how he probably enjoyed my difficulties, the sounds of wheezing and puffing pursuing him. Then I realized that for him, this was not a competition, or one-upsmanship. More than anything else, it probably bothered him, bothered him that I was petulant and disrespectful enough to try to walk with him and pretend in my anger that I had some understanding of what he did. Further, that I had been living with his wife, in his house, had stepped into a life not my own. Had he spoken, I know he would have accused me of finding his life much more attractive than my own, and that I enjoyed his absence because of the vicarious pleasures it allowed me. He wouldn’t have used the word “vicarious,” but he would have meant the same thing. As I worked to keep up with him and kept telling myself that I was being a good brother, that my concern was entirely for him and not for the woman I had come to know, not as some means to forestall what I feared became more inevitable with her the longer he stayed away. As I kept up my insistences, I started to see wisdom in words he had not yet uttered.
I started to slow, and as we came to a corner and a traffic light, I did not see a dip in the breakdown lane. As soon as I hit it, my face and hands were in gravel, my body flat on the ground.
He whirled at the sound and stood looking down.
“You want to do this?” he said. “Then get the fuck up.”
My ankle throbbed. “I don’t know—I think something’s hurt.”
He pursed his lips and snapped his head to the side. When he looked back at me, I saw how red-rimmed and shadowed his eyes were.
“Then you are just going to lie there,” he said. He strode around the corner.
A week or two prior to my dawn walk with him, I had gone to the newspaper offices to post a classified ad for my old washer and drier. As I left the office, I had seen something red beyond a rotting and snow-covered picnic table perched in the office’s back lawn. I don’t know why I went toward it, especially as it had been so small, except that red was the color my brother so often wore, and I had become nearly desperate to see him whenever I could, worrying about his welfare, about where he had gone since the weather had turned cold. The newspaper offices were right along his route. It could have been him.
But it wasn’t. As I approached the woods line, I saw a set of footprints in the snow, at the edge of the trees, and saw where they entered the woods. They were the only sign of traffic at the back of the lawn. Once in the woods, I lost sight of the red color until I nearly stepped over a blind ledge that dropped down toward a stream. Cut into the bank was a lean-to roof, with a heavily twig-thatched roof, behind which was piled some garbage. At the top of the garbage, at about ground level, was an old two-liter bottle of Coca Cola.
I knew it was his. It had to be. The lean-to was built to withstand the apocalypse, the way he did everything, and within it were three neat rolls—bedding, presumably—wrapped in garbage bags. It was the tidiest hideaway that anyone would see.
I realized I would have to confront him, but I didn’t know how I should do it. There, in the woods, I had come across something that made a difference, that had huge significance. Only when I lay in the gravel on the roadside, having fallen and injured myself, did it occur to me I had been as bad as everyone concerned, hoarding something in a hideaway of my own that might have helped.
I pulled myself into a sitting position. I tried to stand, to put weight on the foot, but I had twisted something too badly. I crabbed over to the grassy side of the road and lay on the bank. A semi slowed to the light. The window descended and a man hollered to see whether I needed help, and I sent him on. I wanted to sit for a minute.
I called Laura then. She answered the phone groggily.
“I need you to come get me,” I started.
As I told her what had happened, she woke up more, angry and accusing. I stuck to the facts, tried not to speculate on his actions, or on my own motivations for being out there. But she kept prying. I thought about the hideaway in the woods, the neat bedding. But I kept my silence. I asked if I should just call an ambulance. She said no, she would come get me.
As the moments passed and the traffic increased along 26 and the sun brightened, a wind picked up and made it colder, rustled the leaves of the dense forsythia hedge above me on the bank. I was losing sensation in my fingers, wondering just when I should break down and call an ambulance.
Laura’s Prizm rocked into the breakdown lane a moment later. She wore only a bathrobe under a too-large down vest, probably one of my brother’s. She climbed out of the car and stood in front of me, shivering, arms crossed.
“What were you doing?”
“I followed him. I thought—”
Something crashed through the hedge above me. “Leave him there,” my brother said.
Laura’s mouth opened and closed several times, and she blinked rapidly.
“Get back in the fucking car, and leave him here.” He turned and looked down at me as though I were a dog yelping to be walked. “If he would just get up, he’d be fine. He would walk and maybe learn something.”
She straightened her neck and her head rose. “Where the fuck have you been?” Her voice wobbled. She closed her eyes, shook her head once, and leveled her gaze at him again. I could see her arms shaking.
“You have lost any right to ask me that,” he said.
Several cars passed, each one sending a whip of air to push at Laura’s robe. No one spoke, and I could only see Laura, gaze resolute, her eyes red. When cars stopped as the red light changed, amid their hum of muffled radios and muffler clatter, I turned to try to look at my brother.
As I turned, Laura said, “This is really beyond you, now, you know. I mean, I appreciate what you’ve done, but this is between me and him.” She glared back at my brother.
He said, “It never was any of your fucking business. At all.”
Laura grinned at me then, the way someone does when they are about to leave you at the airport for the last time, or when they know they will never see you again. Her neck straightened when she said, “I can handle this now,” but I could see she didn’t believe it.
I leaned forward, pushed myself up on to my good leg, and put a little weight on the ankle. Pain shot back into me. I could look at my brother and his wife more easily. He stood above me, arms out at his sides as if to draw weapons, his head hunched forward, everything about him poised for fight. Laura, despite the shivers, despite the humming car behind her and the bulky vest, looked ready to take him on. I wanted to be gone then, but stood there facing the fact that one of them would have to get me out of there. My brother did it.
“Around the corner, about a hundred feet, there is a bus stop.”
“You want me to take a bus? Where? That’s absurd.”
He shrugged at me, then looked at his wife. As he did, the bulk of his shoulders eased for a moment, and his face changed. It wasn’t that he relaxed or eased in his animosity. It was subtler. And she changed as well. They had communicated in a glance, and just as I realized it, Laura turned to me and said, “I’ll take you to the hospital. It’ll be fine. Go to the car.”
As I started to hobble to the Prizm, she looked at her husband. He still wasn’t saying anything. I fell into the passenger seat and stretched my leg out. As the car’s heat washed over me like a soporific, I heard him ask her, “You didn’t sleep with him did you?” She said, “You need to come home.”
He thrashed down the hill and, this time his voice lower, with more menace in it, he asked her again. She said, “Of all the things you ask me, of all the things you could say, why is it that?” They said nothing for a long time as his body softened to the point where it looked where he would fall down. She did not touch him. The morning came to life around us, more sounds of cars, more harsh light from a ragged sun. I don’t know if he asked her again, but for years afterward, I would often wonder why she just didn’t say no.
Gabriel Welsch writes fiction and poetry, and is the author of four collections of poems: The Four Horsepersons of a Disappointing Apocalypse (Steel Toe Books, 2013), The Death of Flying Things (Word Tech Editions, 2012), An Eye Fluent in Gray (Seven Kitchens Press, 2010), and Dirt and All Its Dense Labor (Word Tech Editions, 2006). His stories have appeared in Mid-American Review, New Letters, Southern Review, Georgia Review, Ascent, Cream City Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and elsewhere. His story “Groundscratchers,” originally published in The Southern Review, was named a Distinguished Story of 2011 in the 2012 edition of Best American Short Stories. He lives in Huntingdon, PA, with his family, works as vice president of advancement and marketing at Juniata College, and is an occasional teacher at the Chautauqua Writer’s Center.
A BRIEF CHRONOLOGY OF PRETTY, creative nonfiction by Heather Breed Steadham
Six months before conference: forty-year-old woman, mother of three, wife of middle school teacher, mostly unemployed in order to pursue degree in writing and rather broke as a result, registers to volunteer at conference so fees will be paid. Beseeches friend in area for bed in order to avoid hotel costs. Talks two colleagues into carpooling twelve hours across four states so gas can be split three ways. This conference is vital to her career.
Two weeks before conference: forty-year-old woman, daughter of feminist nonprofit executive director, taught practically from birth that women are strong, smart, and bold, seeks advice from faculty on what to bring to said conference. One professor suggests “an extra piece of luggage to bring back magazines and books” and “business cards.” Another professor, male, tenured, Pushcart Prize-nominated, advises, “A remedy for hangovers? Aspirin? I’m coming to the conclusion that the most valuable time spent at a conference is at the parties. Especially if you are charming and witty, and it doesn’t hurt to be pretty, either.” Forty-year-old woman is immediately livid. Would male professor have replied the same to a male student? Do men even have a comparable aesthetic goal to achieve? Is a woman’s value as a writer inextricably intertwined with her ability to entertain and visually please simply because she is a woman? “Okay. I will bring my pretty if I can find it,” replies the woman instead. She wants to bring attention to the level of absurdity of his statement, but she doesn’t want to burn any bridges. She vows to only attend to his comment insofar as it makes her laugh. It’s ludicrous.
One week before conference: forty-year-old woman, former beauty queen, now aging and overweight after three c-sections, looks at the gray emerging from her hairline and the lines surfacing around her eyes. Saves fifty dollars from grocery budget to pay to have her hair dyed. Asks her sixty-six-year-old mom to buy a curling iron so she can do her hair daily at the conference, because she knows that’s her best feature. Has mom also buy her several hundred dollars in beauty creams and serums. Packs them all up, then takes picture and posts on Facebook: “Bringing my pretty.” Four toiletry bags worth. It’s a joke.
Week of conference: forty-year-old woman, starting out later in life than many writers, trying desperately to make the most of her time in school and do what she can to launch her career, gets up at six every morning and applies face creams, styles hair, artistically (and beautifully) makes herself up. She posts selfies on Facebook, asking if she is successful in bringing the pretty for the day. She tweets, “OMG! I sure hope I win ‘Best Hair’ today at #AWP15.” Because it’s a joke.
Last day of conference: forty-year-old woman, after a week of wearing her carefully selected, most flattering dresses, dons a relatively comfortable pair of jeans. Yet even though her feet are bleeding from a week of sun-up to way-after-sun-down walking in pretty flats, instead of choosing her Converse tennies, she bandages her feet and slides them, oh-so-carefully, back into the shoes that have brutally assaulted her. She plasters on that smile for one more day, then feels great relief as she casts off the shoes and sweeps her hair into a ponytail for the twelve-hour drive home. It’s been a productive trip.
Day after conference: forty-year-old woman, mother of three, wife of middle school teacher, daughter of nonprofit director, former beauty queen, interstate traveler, spent after four a.m. arrival home, opens email to see acceptance from national publication, a submission she sent before attending conference. Hugs two-year- old daughter who crawls into her lap. Hugs her tight. Daughter has messy curly hair, dirty face, last night’s pajamas. Forty-year-old woman, unshowered, eye makeup running, greasy hair pulled back, finally feels pretty.
Heather Breed Steadham is a creative writing MFA candidate at the Arkansas Writers MFA Workshop. Her favorite movie is Labyrinth, her favorite song is “Little Wonders,” and her favorite food is the kind you eat. She’s working on finishing both a middle grade and an adult novel at the same time, because brain scrambling is just the kind of habit the Goblin King would be sure to appreciate. You can follow her on twitter @hbsteadham.
Tis the season ... for Pushcart Prize nominations. Congratulations to the Pembroke picks:
John Andrews, "Hook Echo" (poetry)
Katherine Conner, "Mummy Baby" (fiction)
Leigh Camacho Rourks, "Deformed" (fiction)
Jessi Suire, "In Blood and Dust" (fiction)
Susan Finch, "At Least I'm Not the Mermaid" (creative nonfiction)
Jason Skipper, "Distance" (creative nonfiction)
After years of shooting abandoned houses and factories, I’ve become strangely comfortable with the smell of old wood, ghosts, squatters, and the occasional need to wade through a few feet of kudzu and all that lies within. It’s good to have a good pair of rubber boots. Kudzu is an analogy for how we show love in the South—slowly, subtly, and before you know it, you’re covered in it. To be a Southerner is to remember a dark and stormy past, while looking to the future with hope, and maybe even a little fear.
We hold onto our past with fierce pride, almost to a fault. The factories and homes left behind after the slow death of the South Carolinian textile boom are witnesses to what used to be, and stand almost defiantly against the progress that was to be their ruin. Now they are silently consumed and reclaimed by the elements. My work aims to tell their stories, to brush aside the Kudzu curtain to reveal the treasure troves of machinery, classic architecture, and gorgeous color that just wants to be uncovered and allowed to shine once more.
While I am lucky to have online resources to help me locate these locations, and trade tips with other “Rural Explorers,” I still prefer to just hop in my Jeep and drive deep into the countryside, looking for homes and mills lying just out of sight by the sides of roads, in valleys, and sometimes right smack in the middle of farmland. I get excited when I find rusty hunks of machinery or chimneys that have become home to large trees. I add nothing to these scenes, preferring to shoot them as they were left by their past inhabitants.
My aim is to continue my work to include all regions of South Carolina, and to extend out and feature the Abandoned Space of the Southeastern United States.
Get a sneak peek of the 2015 edition of Pembroke Magazine with this excerpt of Forrest Anderson's interview with Tom Cooper, whose debut novel The Marauders will be released by Random House on Feb. 3.
Stephen King describes Tom Cooper’s debut novel as “a little Elmore Leonard, a little Charles Portis, and very much its own uniquely American self.” Writers like Nic Pizzolatto, John Dufresne, and Donald Ray Pollack have responded in kind with generous reviews.
Cooper lives in New Orleans, where he writes and teaches. His stories have been nominated multiple times for the Pushcart Prize, and have appeared in Oxford American, Mid-American Review, Gulf Coast, Boulevard, and Willow Springs.
Forrest Anderson: Tom, if I recall, you used to write music reviews for newspapers in Florida. Could you tell me about your time as a reviewer? Was it good preparation for the life of a novelist?
Tom Cooper: I did. For a short while. Any writing, like exercise, is good for you. Keeps you limber.
I’m not even sure what the life of a novelist is. I sit around. I stare at walls. I check my email. I look up ailments on WEB MD and wonder if I have a brain tumor. So, if that’s the life of a novelist. If that’s even a life. Ha.
FA: Music doesn’t play much of a role in your novel, The Marauders, but one band in particular makes a repeat appearance thanks to a small time criminal named, Hanson, “a bantam-bodied man” who wears a “Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers T-shirt and frayed denim shorts two or three sizes too large.” What do you have against Tom Petty?
TC: What? I love Tom Petty. Tom Petty’s great. I mention AC/DC in the book too. Love them even more. No ballads. You have to love that. Screw ballads.
Weird story: after someone I know read the book—a waitress at my neighborhood pizza parlor—she told me, “Yeah, that guy you based Hanson on walked in here the other day. Tom Petty t-shirt, shorts, ponytail, everything.”
I told her, “I got news for you, I didn’t base Hanson on anybody.”
So, there’s a guy who looks exactly like Hanson walking around, ordering pizza, doing what he does, in New Orleans.
FA: I’d like to start at the beginning of your writing career. You found early success publishing flash fiction in journals and in a collection, Phantasmagoria, published by Keyhole Press. What drew you to start writing flash fiction?
TC: Well, that was some time ago. I haven’t written a flash in half a decade. I haven’t written a short story in about two years. That part of my life seems over. Maybe this means I’ve officially entered the life of a novelist after all? Ha.
FA: Did flash teach you anything in terms of your novel writing? Or is there something about flash that doesn’t translate to the novel?
TC: Sure, I think it did. Flash taught me how to pay attention to the details and, most of all, how to sift out unnecessary stuff. What you leave out is just as important as you put in. The old Hemingway iceberg deal.
FA: When I picked up your novel and saw that each chapter followed a character or a pair of characters—The Toup Brothers, Lindquist, Wes Trench, Grimes, Cosgrove and Hanson—I wondered if this might be a lesson from flash and your short story writing. Were the alternating chapters a way to control scene or section length or a way to work modularly?
TC: I have particular and peculiar methods of working, none of which I’d elaborate on in any great detail because they wouldn’t work for anyone else. And they’d make me sound a little crazy. Plus, a lot of writing, I believe, is an unconscious process.
Eventually, you find your own way of working, your own process, and I’m sure any kind of writing I’ve done, including flash, has contributed to that. Every project has its own metabolism, its own gestation period. You just need to put in the time. After ten years or so, you begin to develop and discover your voice, your way of working, not to mention faith in your convictions.
To read the rest, check out Pembroke Magazine #47, coming soon and available for purchase via Tell It Slant.
REVIEW OF THE SKY IS SHOOTING BLUE ARROWS (UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO PRESS) BY JOHN RIDLAND
Glenna Luschei is not merely a woman of experience but of many experiences. Also, of many books: twenty-two collections and chapbooks, and five artist books. This new one touches on many places lived in and traveled to. But Glenna is not a regional poet or a traveling poet taking pretty pictures. Always there are people in them.
Many are family, seven generations, Americans before the nation was. This land was their land, which Glenna inherits, as a poet. The genius loci often is her muse. When a storm squall scudding in from the Pacific “beats [her] to [her] van” on Mount Tamalpais: “You fall in love with water again.”
Abroad, she prays to a reclining Buddha: “I accept that all is illusion, /everything vanishes.”
Fine! Except the story ends: “When I left the temple, /even my shoes had disappeared.”
Other poems retrace the Westward journey of her ancestors, their prairie schooners leaving ruts in the earth, which Glenna likens to ancient Roman chariot wheel grooves in granite. When other settlers came running, “Indian raid!” her “Great-grandfather John,/unafraid, staked his claim/and made his dugout home.”
After the Civil War, the brothers, California-bound, “shipped their pianos around the Cape.” As in Jane Campion’s movie The Piano, that was one instrument of civilization they hoped would leave its mark on the land. But the land would make its mark on them, too, as in “the grasshopper plague/when we covered/the wheat field/with quilts.” Details like those quilts vouch for the authenticity of Glenna’s voice.
The note of underplayed humor is everywhere, even facing the most serious subject, death: “I am just waiting in my place/behind the others. No shoving..../Will I go gentle like the ones/who went before?” Or “... will I bolt like the astrologer/who carried his pallet/into the desert on the day/forecast for his death?” (Pretty safe, right?) “Nothing could attack him there/except the swallow that dropped/the fatal pebble on his head.” It seems we’d better accept our destinies, like Glenna on the day her shoes vanished.
The Sky Is Shooting Blue Arrows is dedicated to her daughter Linda Glenn Luschei, who died as young as Mozart. Aged five, she had written a true blue-arrow poem: "I am the bicycle. I come along/ to brighten the way. I ride away/leaving everybody happy." —as a book as assured as this will do.
Glenna Luschei is the author of more than twenty-five books and is the founder and publisher of Solo Press. She lives in San Luis Obispo, California.
John M. Ridland was born in London in 1933 of Scottish ancestry, but has lived most of his life in California. He taught writing and literature for over forty years in the English Department and the College of Creative Studies at the University of California in Santa Barbara, where he still lives. His poems have appeared in well over 200 poems in journals such as The Hudson Review, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Poetry, Able Muse, and Sewanee Review, and others. With Peter Czipott he has just publish}|ed a selection of poems by Miklós Radnóti, All That Still Matters at All (New American Press, Madison, WI, 2014). They are now translating poems by Dezsö Kosztolányi.
Review of Island Fog (Lavender Ink, 2014) by Wendell Mayo
John Vanderslice’s debut collection is a whopping cycle of beautifully crafted stories spanning over two hundred years of Nantucket history, each emerging from the fog of the past crystal clear, complete, and poignant. Reading Vanderslice’s stories, it’s as if Ishmael has never boarded the whaleship Pequod in Nantucket, as if he’s remained island-bound to tell these far-reaching, masterful tales. In a gripping, surreal novella reminiscent of Kafka’s The Trial, Vanderslice opens the collection in 1795, during which a consortium of religious oligarchs use a bank robbery as a kind of witch hunt to consolidate power. In “King Philip’s War,” the narrator challenges a Native American boy in a footrace whose outcome is more onerous than he can imagine. From the travails of whaling widows, to a ship’s Captain who must resort to cannibalism to survive on the high seas, to an African-American school teacher stalked by her students, we see Nantucket’s earliest European and native inhabitants struggling to find a place in this island community. In part two of the collection, beginning in 1999, Nantucket transforms from a site of colonization and industrial whaling to a tourist town, dead and haunted in its off-seasons, a crossroads for people running from others, and from themselves. A carpenter struggles with a “fog of soporific recollections” at the death of his wife and child. A man flees a love affair in Boston to establish a company giving ghost tours, only to be haunted himself. Jamaican immigrants find veiled resentment. The titular novella bookends this richly realized collection. In it, a young man flunking out of U Mass finds himself on a purgatorial visit to Nantucket, where he is hired to participate as an actor in “Hopes and Promises” tableaus that reenact customers’ past moments of deepest desires and regrets. Read this book! Rarely have I enjoyed a story collection with such artistic and historical sweep, one so quintessentially and vibrantly American.
Wendell Mayo, who directs the MFA program at Bowling Green University, is the author of four short story collections, most recently The Cucumber King of Kedainiai, which won the 2012 Subito Press Award for Innovative Fiction.
On this night, Tim O’Brien’s novel is on the seat beside me, but MacDonald’s words are filtering into every open space, the volume a few notches too high.
The following interview appears in Volume 45 (2013) of Pembroke Magazine and was conducted by Forrest Anderson.
Called a “mesmerizing first novel” and an “intensely felt and beautifully told story” by The New York Times Sunday Book Review, Wiley Cash’s debut novel A Land More Kind Than Home has landed on the New York Times Bestseller List and has been selected as a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection and a Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Okra Pick. In October, the Crime Writers’ Association awarded the novel the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award.
Cash holds a PhD in English from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette. He has received grants and fellowships from the Asheville Area Arts Council, the Thomas Wolfe Society, the MacDowell Colony, and Yaddo. His stories have appeared in Crab Orchard Review, Roanoke Review, and Carolina Quarterly. He teaches in the Low-Residency MFA Program in Fiction and Nonfiction Writing at Southern New Hampshire University.
We met in true twenty-first century fashion (over Skype) for an onstage interview during the Summer Reading Challenge in Salisbury, North Carolina.
Forrest Anderson: Would you mind talking a little bit about your inspiration for A Land More Kind Than Home?
Wiley Cash: The idea really found me; I was in graduate school at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, and one day during a course in African American literature my professor told us about a news story out of Chicago about a young African American boy with autism who was smothered during a healing service. The story was incredibly tragic, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued by a group of believers that would literally believe something “to death.” I wanted to tell the boy’s story and the story of the community, but I’d never visited Chicago and I certainly couldn’t speak for the African American community on the city’s South Side. But I realized that I could take that same story and set it in North Carolina and understand everything about it: the community, the people and their beliefs, the landscape. I don’t know that I was a regional writer before that revelation; now I don’t think I can go back to being a regionless writer.
FA: When did you know that you had a novel?
WC: I knew I had a novel when I realized that I couldn’t tell of this community’s tragedy in a short story. I also knew I had a novel when I realized I needed more than one narrator to cover the full scale of the event.
FA: I’m wary about asking this next question, but I feel compelled since your novel features religion. The short story writer and novelist Michael Knight has said, “I’m not sure there exists a writer who is nonreligious even if they claim to be an atheist. There’s an element of faith and hopefulness in most writers.” Do you consider yourself a writer of faith? Is religion part of your aesthetic?
WC: Religion isn’t part of my aesthetic, but I think I am the kind of writer who wants to get at the truth of things. By this “truth” I don’t mean “religious truth”—what I mean is that I want to get to the truth of belief and experience. I didn’t set out to write a pro-religion novel (although some folks have accused me of doing that) and I didn’t set out to write an anti-religion novel (although just as many of folks have accused me of doing that). I tried to write a novel that represents the truth of what can happen when the purity of belief is corrupted.
FA: A Land More Kind Than Home is told from the perspective of three different characters: nine-year old Jess Hall, Sheriff Clem Barefield, and the town’s matriarch Adelaide Lyle. Why did you choose to tell the story with multiple first-person narrators?
WC: I first tried writing this as a short story from the father’s perspective; he’s out in his fields working on Sunday morning when he sees the sheriff’s car coming up the driveway, his wife and his youngest son inside. But something about that narration never rang true to me. I couldn’t give it the heat and the intensity and the heartbreak that Ben’s narrative voice would require. I started experimenting with other voices until I found the ones that worked best. This is the community’s story, and I thought it fitting that the community should tell it.
FA: Was it a challenge to structure the novel this way?
WC: Not really—I had some pretty good models. Southern literature is full of these multi-voiced narratives, from William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying to Ernest Gaines’s A Gathering of Old Men to Lee Smith’s Oral History. I learned from those novels about how to structure the voices in a way that moved the plot while still allowing the characters to develop; I wasn’t breaking any new ground.
FA: I read that your wife, an attorney, helped you keep track of the story’s narrators and that she framed the book in terms of “testimony.” I’ve never thought about a novel or a story in this way, and I was hoping you could talk about what that meant to you.
WC: As I started to revise the novel, toward the end I found that I had a lot of pages and a lot of scenes, and it was sometimes difficult to trace the evolution of the story and match it with the knowledge of events that the characters possessed. She helped me trace the characters’ knowledge and figure out who knew what and when. I ended up making a succession of calendars, and I filled them in with the events and the individual characters’ knowledge of those events over the six days during which the novel takes place. My wife is my first reader, and she’s really good at detecting the shortcomings in pacing and tone over the entirety of a manuscript.
FA: You and I are both natives of North Carolina (Gastonia and Rocky Mount). And we both lived outside of the state while doing graduate work in creative writing (Louisiana and Florida). I’ve read that you were desperately homesick while writing, A Land More Kind Than Home. I don’t blame you. I felt that desperation in Florida. Did that feeling make it more difficult or easier to write your novel?
WC: I set this book in North Carolina for two reasons. First, once I moved it from Chicago to North Carolina I was able to tell the story because I knew the area in which it took place. Second, I was able to go home. When I first moved to Lafayette I found that I was incredibly homesick, and reading and writing about North Carolina gave me the opportunity to go home—if not physically then at least spiritually.
FA: You grew up about two hours east of Madison County, where your novel is set. For me, the mountains of North Carolina have always held mystery. How did you come to know the region and feel capable to write about it?
WC: I went to college at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, and then I taught there for two years after receiving my MA in 2001. I love western North Carolina, and I really consider it home. As much as I enjoyed living in Asheville, I found that it could get a little busy and hectic, and every chance I could I took a trip up to Madison County to hike, camp, and have some quiet time alone. My sister lives in Burnsville, North Carolina, just up the road from Asheville and just east of Madison. Whenever I visit her I try to soak up as much of the area as possible.
FA: Do you ever consciously think about being a Southern writer?
WC: Not really, but it doesn’t surprise me that I’ve been classified that way; I’d probably classify myself that way too. I grew up reading Southern writers like Thomas Wolfe, Flannery O’Connor, Clyde Edgerton, and others, so I learned how to write from those Southern luminaries. But I also grew up surrounded by Southern storytellers, and I learned how to tell stories from those folks. It was a pretty good education.
FA: Ethan Canin said that a writer has to learn four things: the prose style, how to get up after you’ve been knocked down, how to keep inventing things, and how to deal with envy. How have you gone about learning these things?
WC: My prose style was pretty hard earned, and I developed it only after experimenting with writers whose work I’d always admired: Toni Morrison, Thomas Wolfe, Jean Toomer, and others. My style is nothing like theirs, but I had to emulate them in order to find out that I couldn’t do their style nearly as well as they could. As I grew older I began to read work by Raymond Carver, Anton Chekhov, and Ernest Gaines, and I found that the leaner style suited me a little better; it was closer to how I told oral stories, and it was closer to how the people spoke who I grew up around.
As far as being knocked down, I’ve been knocked down a lot. I’ve been submitting stories since I was nineteen years old, and I’ve probably received close to a thousand rejections. I also developed a tough skin after spending years in creative writing workshops. I always hope my writing will improve, and the only way to improve is to be challenged. I stopped getting my feelings hurt a long time ago.
I’ve only written one novel and I’m working on a second, so I’m probably not the best person to ask about the consistency of inventing things. I’m still holding my breath that I’ll have an idea for a third novel.
Envy is healthy I think. I read other debut novels, especially by folks I know, and sometimes I can get a little envious, but it’s more like admiration. I’ve never been angry because someone is a better or more decorated writer than me. There’s no room for that in this business; those folks get reputations pretty quickly. I’d rather be the writer who’s always encouraging and congratulating his peers instead of spreading nasty rumors about who doesn’t deserve acclaim or awards or whatever the case may be. This business is hard enough without using all your energy being negative.
FA: I ask this question of almost every writer I interview because I’m always curious. What is your teaching schedule like? How do you find time to write, respond to interview requests, etc.?
WC: While writing the novel I was working as a graduate assistant, taking three courses and teaching two. In the three years I worked at revising the novel I was teaching four courses per semester. I was really busy during those years, and I got most of my writing done during the early mornings and during the summer. That meant I had to make a lot of tough decisions about when to go to bed, when to have another beer, when to go home for the night, when to travel, and when to spend time with friends and family.
I haven’t taught a full load since the spring semester of 2012, and I’ve spent the fall semester teaching in the low residency MFA program at Southern New Hampshire University. This leaves me a lot more time to travel and promote A Land More Kind Than Home while working on my second novel. I still get up early, but I no longer write with one eye on that stack of fifty composition essays that still need to be graded.
FA: Name a writer whose work is currently making you jealous.
WC: Carter Sickels.
FA: What kind of child were you?
FA: What’s your relationship with rejection like?
WC: Consistent, unfortunately.
FA: Do you have a writerly habit you’d like to break?
WC: Reading too much to put off having to write.
FA: What’s the greatest surprise in your writing, to this point?
WC: How much I enjoy writing dialogue.
FA: What can we expect from you next?
WC: My novel-in-progress is set in my hometown of Gastonia, North Carolina, and it’s about a washed-up minor league baseball player who kidnaps his two daughters from a foster home.
Superstition Review: Issue 11 Launch Party to be held April 25th at Mesa Arts Center by: Rikki Lux
Superstition Review, the online literary magazine at Arizona State University, is pleased to announce the launch of their 11th issue on Thursday, April 25th. A launch party to celebrate the occasion will take place at the Mesa Arts Center on Thursday, April 25th from 6 to 8pm.
The launch party will feature presentations by s[r]’s section editors discussing their favorite art, fiction, interviews, nonfiction, and poetry featured in issue 11, as well as a reading by issue 11 contributor Cynthia Hogue. Guests will have free access to the museum and to the exhibition “CreatureManNature” by Arizona artists Monica Aissa Martinez, Carolyn Lavendar, and Mary Shindell, who are past contributors to Superstition Review.
The event will be catered by local vegan and vegetarian restaurant The Pomegranate Café, whose owner Cassie Tolman was the Poetry Editor for Issue 1 of Superstition Review. The menu includes:
RAW! Tacos Vivos
RAW! Arizona Rolls
RAW! Rainbow Wraps
Local Hummus Plate with a variety of fresh veggies and dips (baby carrots, snap peas, radishes, golden flax crackers, macadamia basil pesto, cilantro jalapeno hummus, sunflower ranch...)
Seasonal Fruit Tray with berries, melons & edible flowers
Assorted Pastry Tray
Beverages: Hibiscus Cooler & Seasonal Lemonade or Pomegranate Green Iced Tea
Since Superstition Review’s founding by ASU professor Patricia C. Murphy in 2008, s[r] has gained national attention, featuring work from over 500 contributors including: Aaron Michael Morales, Anthony Doerr, Barbara Hamby, Barbara Kingsolver, Beckian Fritz Goldberg, Billy Collins, Bob Hicok, Chase Twichell, Cynthia Hogue, Dan Chaon, Daniel Orozco, Dara Wier, David Baker, David Hamilton, David St. John, Deborah Bogen, Denise Duhamel, Dick Allen, Dinty W. Moore, Eric Weiner, Erin McGraw, Ewing Campbell, Floyd Skloot, Frances Lefkewiz, H. Lee Barnes, and many more. All content is free to read and is available at superstitionreview.com.
Superstition Review hopes to see a large turnout at the launch party. All members of the literary and arts community are encouraged to attend.
On March 19, 2013, the incredible Jill McCorkle visited UNC Pembroke to join us in a celebration of the nearly 45-year history of Pembroke Magazine and to read from her stunning new novel -- her first in 17 years -- LIFE AFTER LIFE. She read to a packed house, and Pembroke Magazine is happy to share the audio here.
LIFE AFTER LIFE officially releases March 26, but it's been getting great buzz for weeks. The April issue of O Magazine calls it "gorgeously written," proclaiming, "Who knew death, regret, and lengthy ruminations about days past could add up to a novel this vibrant, hopeful, and compelling?" It's available for purchase on Amazon now. You don't want to miss this novel, or the memorable characters that Jill McCorkle has crafted inside the Pine Haven Retirement Center. Pembroke Magazine loves Jill McCorkle, and LIFE AFTER LIFE.
Pemmy kept busy post-AWP, traversing the globe. Thanks to readers who've joined in the fun and shared your own photos. Check out the gallery here (which I'm happy to add to -- keep 'em coming).
#45 -- Pemmy, a moniker in honor of the lovely gal on the cover -- arrived just in time for AWP. She's a beaut, and she had the best time in Boston. Thanks to the contributors, readers, and new friends who stopped by to visit and took her home. A special thanks to the fine folks at The Southeast Review, who were so generous to share their bookfair space.
Next up: spring break. Pemmy's sure to do it up big, so stay tuned for more adventures. Contributors, subscribers, and friends, if you haven't received your copies yet, rest assured that Pemmy's on her way to your mailbox soon. You're gonna love her. Keep me posted on your travels together.
... where writers, readers, and regional aficionados weigh in on craft, Americana, and all-things worth reviewing.