Prairie Fire review

My story “Woman Moving to the Country” was published in Prairie Fire magazine at the beginning of this year, and I promised in my blog post announcing the publication that I would write about the other stories in the issue once I received my contributor’s copy. Well, um, they weren’t that slow in sending it. I just haven’t been able to make time before now. The first few months of this year were rather busy, for some reason.

Prairie Fire is a quarterly Canadian print literary magazine, publishing both short fiction and poetry (the issue I was in featured 6 stories, an essay, and 21 poems). I feel I should offer the disclaimer that I tend to write and read mostly genre, not literary, fiction; which means that I might be looking for different things in a story than the typical target reader of a literary journal such as Prairie Fire. So don’t assume I know what I’m talking about here!

For me, the most memorable stories were Colin Snowsell’s “The Driver” and Kirsten Madsen’s “The Cold Snap”. Snowsell’s story makes effective use of an unreliable narrator, and a twist ending that the reader sees coming soon enough to appreciate the poignancy of the situation, but not so soon that the twist feels too obvious. “The Cold Snap” is primarily about the narrator’s affair with an older married man (37 years old! Ancient!), but also about her relationships with the other people in her life. I appreciated how we see her assessment of other people change and deepen as she comes to know them better, particularly her younger coworker at the coffee shop, and her lover’s wife. I wasn’t convinced that the titular cold snap was an essential aspect of the story, though. Madsen’s descriptions of the frigid northern Canadian winter were richly descriptive, but I ended up feeling that the same story could just as well have been set in any small, remote town.

Interestingly, all the stories in the issue were written in first person. I don’t know if this is more typical of literary fiction, or just coincidence; in the fantasy and science fiction world, we certainly don’t avoid first person, but I’d say the majority of stories are told in third person, and in fact, some prominent f/sf editors actively dislike first person. Maybe the intimate nature of first person works better for the more internal sorts of stories that literary fiction tends to feature? (Or maybe I should read a few more literary magazines before venturing such a judgment.)

It’s even harder for me to judge poetry than literary fiction, since I read even less of it. And since I tend to be more interested in plot and character development than in imagery or beautiful language, I’m really out of my depth with poetry. Having said this, among the poems in the issue I particularly liked “Harry Mayzell’s Suit” by Harold Rhenisch (because it tells a story), Ellen Shearer’s “Hydrangea (after Plath)” (I found the imagery striking, and I liked the bitter edge), and R. Johnson’s “cat walk” (possibly because of its scorn for those who don’t love cats, and because it’s also the story of a relationship, in all its brevity).

Anne Simpson was the featured writer for this issue, with 4 poems and an essay. I loved the gorgeous use of nature imagery in her poems, and found her essay on “Poetry and Community” challenging and thought-provoking in its exploration (among other things) of how writers, whose work is so often inward-focused, also need to look outside themselves into the lives and experiences of others.

The next issue of Prairie Fire is out now, featuring, among others, poet Neile Graham, whom I know from the Clarion West Workshop. It would have been lovely to have been in the same issue as Neile, but alas, it was not to be! If you didn’t have a chance to read the issue with my story, and would still like to, back issues are orderable here. The one you’re looking for is Volume 31, Issue 4, featuring Anne Simpson.

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