Literary Journal Review: Vestal Review #50
by Johnny Caputo
Let’s face facts, folks: in our complex and ever-changing world, certainty is at a premium. Words like “dependable,” “truthful,” and “assurance” seem like remnants of a bygone era—ancient heroes lost amidst the heavy sighs of our grandparents’ stories.
But fear not, beleaguered wanderer of the 21st century. Because in this age when even facts are covered in a slippery mucous membrane, there is still one truth we can rely on: Vestal Review will always crank out high quality flash fiction.
Vestal Review has published solely flash fiction since its inception in 2000. Yeah, they’ve been broadcasting mind-bending and heartfelt stories since the ancient days of mp3s and Y2K. And their latest iteration, issue #50, is no exception.
Each of the nine collected stories offers the reader a glimpse into a distinct and intricate world. Worlds filled with magical orchids that beget floods, dark ruminations of a weekend baker, and the stunning revelation that George Clooney may or may not be the Messiah. These worlds force us to confront the difficult questions of our time: How do we move forward when the world around us is in constant flux? When you must leave the ones you love in order to protect them? When you want your daughter to transform into something sensible like a dog, but all she wants is to be a flittering chickadee? In this manner, each story forces its protagonist into a moment of turmoil, either literal or emotional, which allows the reader to examine the character’s reaction to her or his own particular crisis. Together, through their varied fantastical and realistic situations, the stories explore the complex relationship between memory and experiences of turbulent transformation.
The collection opens with the story “Ghosts” by Stuart Dybek, a haunting tale in which the protagonist must rush his new girlfriend to the ER after some innocent experimentation with recreational drugs goes wrong. The intentional time confusion that pervades this story leaves the reader unsettled as the narrator questions how he reacted in those hours of crisis.
In “Catching Frogs” by Gillian Walker, a woman is confronted with the knowledge that her long-time lover is married. As she sorts out her competing senses of anger, morality, and culpability, she realizes that she could decimate this man’s life just as easily as she could snap a frog’s leg. But should she? Will she?
The collection ends with the tale “Never Let Go; Goodbye” by Clarence Chapin. In this story, a soldier reaches over the edge of a cliff, risking his own life, to cling to his friend’s hand. As the soldier’s strength begins to fail, he must choose between holding on and falling himself or letting go of his friend and ensuring his own survival. But how will the soldier live with himself if he chooses the latter?
These are the types of stories that our uncertain times demand: tales that force us to consider every high-minded ideal, every base instinct, every despair of the past, confusion of the present, and hope for the future. Regardless of whether the hopes of the characters are met or unmet, the stories offer us nine brief moments to reflect, catch our breath, and consider just how and why we will continue to move forward.
Ultimately, Vestal Review #50 explores the hopes of human beings in troubled times. The nine stories collected here allow us to reflect upon the catastrophes and uncertainties of our own lives in ways that are heartbreakingly honest and entirely human. When you pull yourself away from Vestal Review #50, I can’t promise that you will feel any more assured about the future. But you will know for a fact that you are not alone.
In these unsettled times, that’s the most sincere truth we can hope for.
Johnny Caputo is a pirate but only part time. He spends the rest of his time teaching, reading comic books, going for the occasional guilt-inspired run, and writing. He received his MFA in creative writing from Chatham University in 2016. You can find his work in The Pea River Journal, Dually Noted, the forthcoming collaborative novels Eslyd’s Awakening and Army of Brass, and on Tetheredbyletters.com. If you want to read more, check out johnnycaputo.com or follow him on Twitter @gojohnnycap. He lives in Cleveland, Ohio where there is plenty of loot to be plundered and grog to be drunk.