A Thread of Imagery Connecting Fiction, Poetry, Flash Fiction and More
This issue of Fourteen Hills, published twice a year by the MFA students at San Francisco State University, is a collection of striking imagery. From my first glimpse of the cover image—a deer standing wide-eyed on a beach covered in trash—to the content of the stories, poems, and artwork inside, I was repeatedly captivated by memorable visual after memorable visual.
The fiction of this issue ranges from very short flash pieces of just a page in length to full and detailed stories spanning over thirty pages. Kicking off the bombardment of wonderful imagery is Randall Brown’s “Progressive Tense,” which begins with an image of what something isn’t and continues through a series of actions that serve to capture the futility of the narrator’s efforts to connect with his family. Despite the brief and heartbreaking details we learn about the characters—a father suffering from Parkinson’s, a son with eerily similar body tics—the progressive tense used throughout emphasizes the hopelessness the piece ends on: “I’m yelling pull, pull, pull, but always nothing.”
Arguably the most gut-wrenching image here is taken from Adam Klein’s “A Hardship Post.” This lengthy story, which takes place in Bangladesh, is worth every page, if only for the central searing visual of a worm crawling out of a young girl’s belly button. Klein handled the scene with enough description to make my skin crawl, but with a touch of humor to avoid bordering on grotesque. Though the image is only one small moment in the story, the main character, Roger Card, revisits it in the last few lines of the story, solidifying the central themes of foreignness: “For a moment, he imagined Rafique, and maybe everyone else, had seen something foreign, larval, emerging from him. Closing his eyes, he imagined having the coordination to crush it.”
One of the shorter and more controlled fiction pieces is “Coffee-mate” by Susan Straight. The first line instantly caught my attention and caused me to unconsciously grind my teeth: “We were so hungry when we worked there, we ate Coffee-mate on breaks.” The short story, only covering four pages of this small journal, is a brief story of friendship told around staggering descriptive detail. The narrator describes her and co-worker Mary Janisse’s sugar rush as, “creamy sweet dust,” which they would steal spoonfuls of and “crunch it between our molars.” Straight’s lush writing assaults the reader with an image that requires multiple senses, causing us to see, feel, and taste her characters’ story.
Straight’s story is preceded by an interview with the author, who is a National Book Award Finalist and contributor to such big names as The New York Times, Harper’s, and Zoetrope. The interview, done by Mike Urquidez, offers insight into Straight’s views on writing from the perspective of different races and ethnicities, as well as her thoughts on the book as a medium. This discussion on race and ethnicity transitions perfectly into “Coffee-mate,” since the narrator, Dionisia, is Greek. The interview provides a unique image of a successful author alongside her story, allowing Fourteen Hills to live up to their commitment to publish emerging and award-winning authors.
The trend of captivating images continues through the inclusion of eight glossy pages of artwork by Chris Koehler and Philip Govedare. Consisting mostly of abstract landscape imagery, these pages offer a colorful reprieve halfway through the literature of the journal. Koehler’s work is done in all red, black and white tones, while Govedare paints in muted pastels. Together, their work starkly contrasts and oddly compliments the other.
Not to be outdone, the poetry contained in this issue also offers up lovely imagery, through words and presence on the page. A block prose poem, “Wake,” by Kyle McCord is followed a page later by Sean M. Rumschik’s “Aria in Vivo,” which curves down the page much like the first line proclaims, “The curved streets were the body.” To understand the unforgettable images put forth by the words in this issue’s poetry, you need not look further than the boldly titled “Backdrop with Splashes of Cum on It,” by D.A. Powell.
From the belly button worm, to the crunch of powdered Coffee-mate, to the cover art of the deer standing on a trashed beach—the contents of this journal are sure to be memorable by themselves and unforgettable as a collection. Though Fourteen Hills publishes fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and art, the wide range of work is connected by a dedication to the visual experience of the reader. It is a journal that begs to be read cover-to-cover.