One of the most important questions we ask ourselves as we gather at the editorial table is whether to organize a particular issue around a theme or a cover story. This can be a thorny question for a publication that is both a literary quarterly and a general-interest magazine, for which international reporting is as vital as, say, the fiction or poetry or critical essays. Sometimes we proceed with a theme in mind, and sometimes a theme reveals itself in the content at hand. In the case of this fall issue, we recognized something in the short stories in our lineup—namely, that they share an insight into the curious ties that bind a family together.
Thus, Tolstoy’s well-known observation—that happy families are all alike and “every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”—brings these stories together. But if Tolstoy was right, then one could argue that this condition of unhappiness is defined by what a family—or a member of that family—lacks; that it isn’t what we possess but what we are missing that makes us, inherently, us.
The short stories in this issue, told by masters of the form—Richard Bausch and Ann Beattie—rising talents—Taylor Antrim and Elliott Holt—and a new voice in American fiction—Praveen Krishna—follow a series of characters who seem propelled by what’s missing in their lives. They seek it out through awkward homecomings, infidelity, extravagant gestures of one kind or another that trigger curious turning points. A family reunites in tense celebration. A couple moves deeper into concealment as the years pass. Children betray and disappoint. Parents die. In these stories, an absence—of kinship, paternal love, or one’s own self—is a kind of obstacle that must be overcome.
VQR is known for its nonfiction themes and journalistic portfolios, and we found it refreshing to apply this same organizing principle to the fiction—using an intellectual premise rather than presenting stories based on whether a writer was unpublished or up-and-coming. In doing so, we continue to deliver what longtime readers have come to enjoy and expect through VQR’s themes—a way of framing the experience. What’s more, we’ve been able to complement the fiction package with some unforgettable nonfiction, including work by emerging writers. In “Begin Cutting,” Dr. Gaurav Raj Telhan composes an unflinching reflection on the existential questions triggered by his first cadaver during medical school; and in our cover story, “The Lure of the Hunt,” Amanda Giracca composes a vivid portrait of an ancient sport—falconry—and how its traditions have been sustained in an increasingly suburbanized America.
True to form, the fall issue of VQR delivers a range of talent in a variety of disciplines—from poets A. E. Stallings and David Lehman to journalist Jenna Krajeski, who delivers a deeply reported piece on Syrian Kurds and their goal of building a leftist revolution in the midst of unfolding chaos. The range of this writing, coupled with expansive photo essays by Dawn Whitmore (on the culture of female bodybuilding) and Nadia Shira Cohen and Paulo Siqueira (on the endangered trades of northeast Brazil), helps us deliver on all fronts—from the literary to the journalistic and beyond.