Lacuna is a noun defined as “an unfilled space or interval,” and alternately as “a missing portion in a book or manuscript.” E.B. Vandiver‘s striking short story by the same name occupies a prominent spot – filling a lacuna, you might say – in the Winter 2013 issue of The Georgia Review (@GeorgiaReview). Sandwiched on both sides by nonfiction and poetry, Vandiver’s story stands out next to the other sole fiction author in the issue, Jim Heynen.
Why, you may ask me, do you insist on dawdling in the past, Monsieur? Winter 2013 may as well be the dark ages now. For some, yes, but the truth is that I delight in plumbing the depths of our literary landscape, no matter how much they are overlooked by the establishment. That’s me, dear reader: a scholarly rebel, a veritable canary in the coal mine of literature.
The prose of “Lacuna” settles in the brain and germinates there, refusing to die after you have finished reading. It is spare, precise, curious, and highly intelligent. While doing laps, the protagonist accidentally bumps his head on the concrete lip of a pool, and Vandiver describes the ensuing pain as “a parenthesis of softness.”
“A gardenia unfurled behind his eyes, a sudden, crushing white before fading into a web… He tasted chlorine on his tongue. He peeled back the black edges of the gardenia, deep in the scent… [Later,] he ordered a drink, drank it standing. It soothed the gardenia, now closed to a bud but throbbing still in the front of his skull…”
Floral metaphors! Delicious.
The young protagonist – referred to only as Quitman – is attending art college for oil painting. When we meet him he is engaged in a surreptitious relationship with his studio instructor. The fact that the instructor is never given a name, and soon recedes from the story altogether, hints at one of Vandiver’s themes: the apparent randomness of experience, the way that life seems at first blush to be composed of interrelated strands that, in fact, only disentangle themselves and curl away from one another upon further inspection. Quitman’s aunt, Ana, is only seven years older than the narrator, and their complicated relationship deepens after the death of her aged brother, Quitman’s father. Ana flies home from Germany, accompanied by a husband, and she and the protagonist rejuvenate a strange but compelling dynamic that is enriched by the presence of Ana’s distant spouse, Wilhelm.
I enjoyed this story for its ability to regale and confound me. It is quite difficult to accomplish this, as I am an erudite and quick-witted monster.
The Georgia Review, you mischievous lemur, you! What an interesting voyage it has been to travel through your pages. A doff of my cap goes to editors Stephen Corey, David Ingle, Douglas Carlson, and Jenny Gropp Hess for publishing wonderful pieces in various “lacunae” alongside Vandiver, including Gerda Saunders‘ touching personal essay detailing the onset of dementia, Jim Heynen‘s flash fiction, and Craig Morgan Teicher‘s review of Mary Szybist’s collection, Incarnadine, which won the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry.
And while I’m at it, kudos goes to my heroes at The Review Review for continually publishing evaluations and ruminations on literary journals far and wide. I copy their website, word for word, every week, in order to build up calluses and ward off carpal tunnel syndrome.