Wednesday Jan 19

Robert Clark Young The trouble with publishing work that is highly emotionally resonant is that, too often, readers are hesitant to confront the subject matter that makes such work possible. The four pieces I’ve selected this month dramatize difficult losses, but it would be the reader’s loss not to experience the full emotional breadth of the work of these very fine literary artists.

It is not enough to catalogue the losses these writers survey. What I have to say about these four pieces comes by way of praise, not by way of introduction. For that you will have to read the work.

It is not enough, for example, to say that Hannah Bachman, in “Requiem for My Friend,” loses her friend in the worst way possible. You have to experience their friendship first, and the only way for you to experience it is to read her extraordinary essay. That is the only way to imagine yourself into their lives.

Nor is it enough to say that Melissa DeCarlo, in “Matricide,” loses her mother in a way that none of us would like to experience. And it’s insufficient to say that many of us have lost our mothers under similar circumstances. Nobody has lost his or her mother in precisely the same way that DeCarlo has, because the experience of every death is unique to those who live through it. It is that uniqueness that DeCarlo so devastatingly develops and conveys.

The situation in “Boats,” by Jim Krosschell, is quite different. It is, in fact, a set of fascinating circumstances that none of us is ever likely to experience. There are great pieces of writing that make us feel intensely because they evoke for us something intense that we ourselves have experienced; there are other kinds of writing, just as great, that make us feel intensely because of their masterful otherworldliness. This is the world of Jim Krosschell.

Elizabeth McDonnell, in “An Echo Against Time,” is just as skillful in making real for us a situation that most of us have never faced, and would never want to face. It is a family problem. You may be greatly or moderately disturbed by it, but you will not be unsympathetic. The combination of feeling disturbed and sympathetic is part of what makes this story so powerful. But it could not be powerful for that reason alone—the skill of the writer must bring it to emotional life for us. And it does.

These are four serious artists. That fact, combined with the seriousness of their subject matter, compels our attention.