The Greensboro Review, chosen because it was the most recent magazine to arrive when I decided to do this. Before digging into the Fall 2011 issue, I'll note that the website doesn't seem to have been updated recently (the Spring 2009 issue is highlighted). Note also that the magazine now accepts online submissions (via Submishmash). The magazine does not feature on the Perpetual Folly Pushcart Prize Ranking for Fiction (which means that in the last 10 years it has received no prizes or special mentions for fiction). However, when the ranking for poetry debuts in a week or so, TGR will be on the list.
The Greensboro Review is a slim volume out of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The current issue, Fall 2011, has six short stories (by Sean Padraic McCarthy, Kirk Nesset, Jesse Goolsby, Dan Pope, Reid Wegner, and Patrick Dacey) and poems by 18 poets. [I hesitate to mention this, but I will because much has been made of the supposed difficulty women have in getting work published in magazines: all six of the stories in this issue are by men. I can’t guess why that is the case, but my own magazine tends to see fewer fiction submissions by women, and, as a result, we generally publish more male fiction writers than female. I have no idea what the deal is at TGR. Anyway, I noticed.]
I won’t discuss the poetry in the issue (since I’m primarily a reader and writer of fiction), except to say that I enjoyed “The Great Hunger” by Chelsea Rathburn, but I have to say that I really liked the stories.
Although all the stories are good, my favorite is probably “Sing for Me” by Patrick Dacey, about Henry, who is sent from Buffalo, NY, to spend three months on a project at a factory near Qingdao, China. Henry, who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend (a singer), does the things that lonely guys do on long overseas assignments: drinks too much, seems bored, has a run-in with some locals, gets sick, visits prostitutes. Also, eventually, Henry becomes enamored of Lulu, a cleaning-woman with a sweet voice whom he first sees in a Karaoke club. What I like about the story is its freshness—the setting is unusual and the pairing of Henry and Lulu is also new. There’s also the element of Henry’s assistant/translator, “Kid,” who livens things up considerably. One reason this story appealed to me is the setting. People seem to like stories set in foreign countries, and I’m interested in China, so I was immediately drawn in. But the structure is classic—put a character in an unfamiliar environment and you’ve got instant tension. I would add that if the environment is also unfamiliar to the reader that the tension is further enhanced. Unusually, the story gives us a lot of background before we get to his first glimpse of Lulu and the beginning of his quest to find her.
Then there’s Kirk Nesset’s “Miami,” a long story about a pig. Nesset recently had a flash fiction piece in Prime Number Magazine, which you can read here. But the story about the pig is really about a couple of college roommates and their trials and tribulations, including conflicts with parents, boyfriends, and the pig (“. . . a house with a pig is a curious thing.”).
“Safety” by Jesse Goolsby is a compelling story about a guy with a deep, dark secret who marries a woman whose brother, Dub, is an endless source of trouble. I love titles with multiple meanings and in this story a gun—an item in which one of the meanings of “safety” is important—plays a crucial role.
I should also mention “Testudo” by Reid Wegner if only because I’ve never before seen a story from the point of view of a tortoise—a Russian tortoise born in Afghanistan, no less.