Storied selected by Lev Grossman. Edited by Kim Winternheimer and Sadye Teiser. $9.99 paperback (125 pages) ISBN: 978-0-9853407-2-8
To MFA or not to MFA. The debate over the necessity of graduate-level creative writing has been bubbling the past few years and shows no signs of stopping, and that’s okay. One thing that graduate programs have going for them is talent like that in The Masters Review: Volume 3. The collection of ten pieces, chosen by Lev Grossman (author of Codex and The Magicians Trilogy), is an attempt to highlight some of the best work being produced by graduate level writers. Thankfully, this attempt is a successful one.
What makes this collection so strong is that the stories, when taken together, are reacting to the human experience in such different ways. We are not seeing the same thing over and over. Instead, we are dropped into ten different worlds with ten different sets of characters that are shouting for us to pay attention.
The opening story, “The Behemoth,” begins “A giant person fell out of the sky. That’s the best we can explain it.” Immediately, readers are transported to another place, reminiscent of Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” We as readers believe that a giant has fallen from the sky because the author, Drew Ciccolo, makes the story not about that. We believe it because we see the people exhibiting real human emotions in regards to the giant. They gawk and they wonder. Their experiences are palpable and that is what makes this an engaging piece.
In just the span of a few pages, The Masters Review manages to transport readers across space and time. In “The Turk,” we meet a 1780s chess master who, for a very long time, played the game from inside a machine—the Turk. Following his career inside the machine, the man resorts to tutoring the rich. Alone for so long, the chess master eventually commits an act that ends his career. There is directness in the prose that speaks volumes of Andrew MacDonald’s understanding of the human condition. He allows us to pity and revile in equal turns. Nearing the end of his life, the man wonders “how many souls the Turk will have before its death, and what a shame it is that I’ve sold mine to a machine.” MacDonald’s character knows the repercussions of his life and is left, in the waning hours left, to ponder them. He is alone and broken and that comes through beautifully.
To MFA or not to MFA. This collection may not sway a person either way, but what The Masters Review does do is show us that contemporary prose is alive, growing, and evolving with every person that steps into a classroom. The Masters Review shows that there are great things on the horizon for readers of contemporary literature, it is just a matter of time. (October 2014)
Purchase The Masters Review Volume III HERE.
Reviewer bio: Sam Slaughter is a writer based in Central Florida. He's had fiction and nonfiction published in places such as Midwestern Gothic, McSweeney's Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. His debut chapbook, When You Cross That Line will be published May 2015. He holds various roles for Atticus Review, Entropy, and Black Heart Magazine. He can be found online at www.samslaughterthewriter.com and on Twitter @slaughterwrites.