Northwest Edge: Fictions of Mass Destruction

edited by Andy Mingo, Trevor Dodge, Lidia Yuknavitch; editors and contributors appearing at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W. Burnside, Monday, 7:30 pm

With all literary magazines--or any anthology, really--it's pretty much a given that the quality is going to be uneven. Therefore, any time one heads into literary territory with more than one author on the horizon, it's a good idea to do so with equal parts excitement and foreboding.

Northwest Edge: Fictions of Mass Destruction tries so hard to be shocking and experimental and, well, edgy, that it sets itself up for a higher-than-usual ratio of suckiness to goodness. There's a lot of stuff that's not very good in Northwest Edge, and perhaps not coincidentally, it's those shitty selections that are usually the ones trying so hard to be shocking and experimental and edgy. Have no misconceptions: there is crappy prose here, there is crappy poetry, there is crappy art--there's even one utterly inhumane piece that somehow combines all three.

But the overall vibe of Northwest Edge is refreshing and earnest--it's hard not to go along with the whole thing, if only on principle. The editors are clearly going balls out, and regardless of how often the submissions fail to deliver, the overall collection's still a rewarding experience.

This is largely due to the selections that display graceful subversion and originality. In "Hazard Statements," by David Pinson, cautionary statements about dating desperate and lonely persons are laid out as warning labels. "My Old Man," by Kevin Sampsell, follows a young man as he takes in an old man as one would adopt a lost dog. Karney Hatch's "Dayreader" depicts a day using only words read during that day, from a shampoo bottle's label to the setting of an alarm clock. Grant Olsen's "I am Portable" is consistently interrupted by Olsen's own commentary about the story. And Ritah Parrish's "Delicious" is gleefully vicious and despondent. These works have authenticity and intelligence in addition to their daring; indeed, they seem to embody what Northwest Edge was going for in the first place. When that ideal is glimpsed, this collection is a stunning one, effortlessly and genuinely shocking, experimental and--yep--edgy. ERIK HENRIKSEN