Like Elizabeth Bishop or Joseph Cornell, Morgan Harlow‘s art is not great but small. An Elizabeth Bishop poem or a Joseph Cornell box reveals a world in miniature and invites us directly in. These two artists offer us layers of art, a sedimentary aesthetic that contain boxes within boxes, riddles wrapped in paradoxes, suffused in mystery-there is a certain indeterminacy in their work that multiplies hermeneutical possibilities and closes off no room for investigation. Each detail is minutely observed, and the emotion is carried by things, things sometimes ignored or overlooked. In Harlow’s poem “On the Way to Your First AA Meeting,” the indeterminacy starts with the title, where a sly pronoun expertly placed creates a fictive world that makes the familiar strange: a drive to a meeting becomes an existential excursion–
At a stoplight on some crowded
corner, you wait for the moon to change.
Harlow has become one of Fictionaut’s most reliable and astute readers. If you are lucky enough to earn one of her thoughtful, economical comments on your work, you are blessed indeed. She’s like an epigram in motion. How appropriate then, that this small poem set the Fictionaut community abuzz some months ago, as interpretation after interpretation was offered, minds were changed, hearts were opened, aliens were sighted, closer to home than one might have previously imagined. Harlow is a writer’s writer, and if this is your first introduction to her work you are one lucky sumbitch.
Victoria Lancelotta is something else again. This is the place where I’m obliged to confess that my judgment may be clouded because (pick ‘em) we’re colleagues at the same literary journal, we’re both Italian Americans, both from the east coast (she’s a Baltimore writer, I am hopelessly NY), both rabid baseball fans and hopeless flirts (at least she is), that I’m half in love with her, or at least with the pictures she sends me of herself, cooking, or her latest pair of high heels-and yet-she still surprised me with “Everything is Fine.” Another ironic title, sure, but this story peels like an onion, each layer revealing more emotional truth, a familial tale of infidelity that put me mind of Alice Munro for its novel-within-a-story depths, if you can imagine Munro in stilettos. The ending knocked me sideways; re-reading the comments on the story I see that I am not alone in this. I am especially pleased that this story first ran in the Antioch Review, where I was a fiction editor once upon a time, and where (I tell myself) I would have snatched this story out of the slush blindfolded in a blizzard.
So there you have it–a poem and a story, two lovely & amazing writers, worlds upon worlds, there for you, back in the recesses of the vault here at Fictionaut. New Fictionauts, or old comrades who merely blinked as the front page speeded up, have at it! Ciao.
Fictionaut Faves, a series in which Fictionaut members discuss one story they have faved, is edited by Marcelle Heath, a fiction writer, freelance editor, and assistant editor for Luna Park. She lives in Portland, Oregon.