December 21, 2019 by The Citron Review
No doubt you’ve heard of Newgrange in Ireland: for about 17 minutes, and only on the sunrise of the shortest day of the year, a single shaft of life penetrates deep into the heart of this ancient tomb. As metaphors go, perhaps these ancients were a bit on the nose. But perhaps the craft that went into that tomb was not to construct a metaphor, but to create a physical reality for the people who built it. On the darkest day of the year this culture needed light distilled, light crafted, light framed in such a way that they could see and feel, even taste it. They didn’t need a metaphor: they needed physical hope that the darkness would eventually ebb.
You’re about to read the winter 2019 creative nonfiction selections for The Citron Review. Each piece is crafted, each piece feels entirely different. Each piece brings a sadness about childhood or the threat of lost or violated innocence and trust. Yet I walked away from these selections of creative nonfiction feeling cheered.
The first: Denton Loving’s empirical topography of masculinity and emotion. The sentences are relatively spare, and there’s an ironic tension with the subject matter that feels odd at first. It’s as if the writer has learned the lesson of the father even as he also realizes—intellectually—that the lesson is spiritually vacant. And thus: the piece ends on a taxonomic display of weeping that feels appropriate. We weep through the absence of tears.
Lisa Tuininga’s “The Farrier” relies on the way in which someone’s full humanity can emerge through careful, quiet observation. The piece carefully builds an image as much or more than it provides a narrative. We can see a narrative, actually, in this man’s hands, and hear it in his voice. The care he takes with his work tells us as much about his life as the words themselves.
“Kids in the Hall,” by Will McMillan tries to capture the pure absurdity of zealotry through hyperbolic language: it’s a short horror film that happens to be real, and it plays with perception. The adults perceive demonic terror, but they are the demonic terror and their own fears threaten to overwhelm their own children. We need an exorcism, yes, but to expel the parents and their joyless insistence on a destructive sense of empirical reality that ironically creates bizarre fantasies.
When I first read our last piece I was genuinely puzzled. Savannah Sloane’s “I want to start a podcast but” stream-of-consciousness prose at first reads as an un-crafted drop into the frustrated thoughts of a modern-day adult. I had a sense of recognition, yes, but couldn’t see beyond the frustration to the symmetry we are often looking for in these pieces. But the piece buried itself in my consciousness, and over a few weeks I began to feel the way in which each line of the piece represented the writer’s relentless courage in the face of the despair that so much of our culture forces on this generation of parents. The result was odd: the piece brings us up close to the savage results of capitalism, yet its very insistence on noting a certain depravity proved cathartic. I’ve thought about the piece every single day since I first read it.
The piece proved—if you’ll forgive me a cliché—to be a light in the darkness. Whenever I think of Newgrange, I can’t help imagining a cluster of priests and leaders and healers traveling deep into the heart of pure black. They may have had torches, but if you’ve ever made this peculiar journey you’ll know that any human-generated light must have seemed feeble against the pure black that drenches the inner region for 364 days of the year.
Nathan R. Elliott
Creative Nonfiction Editor
The Citron Review