By Kathlene McGovern
2005 met us with Katrina, Bush’s second presidential term and a death rate of three Americans per day in the Iraqi conflict. While trying to remain outwardly calm, many of us were experiencing a sort of inner chaos in relation to this new and ever-changing landscape of our country and our well-being.
Inscape’s print cover for 2005 is almost a direct reflection of that chaotic experience. A dizzying jumble of pattern and information draws the reader, beckons them, perhaps by no means other than chaos recognizing chaos. In fact, the issue feels as if it’s trying to figure itself out, much like we were at the time. A collection of bright, beautiful color-block prints on paper ranging from vellum to pages torn from a sketchbook, that are designed to allude to the piece with which they are paired are nestled between black and white photos that are directly related to the writing. A mixed bag of themed pieces comprise this edition’s centerpiece “What Drives L.A” which is bookended by solid blocks of poetry and short stories while the journal is anchored by a series of essays that range from humorous to heated. It’s as though the staff wanted to present the reader with material that could shake them up in the most comfortable, staid and safe a way as possible.
One standout in the volume is the Literary Prize winning essay “Fears” by R. Marie Jennings who, in a post-9-11 world, can’t make herself work up the appropriate amount of fear that the obscure science museum where she works in Los Angeles would be a first-strike target for terrorists “during awards season, no less,” while admitting she can’t watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Wizard of Oz because she’s “terrified of Oompa-loompas and Munchkins.”
Another is Carlos Lemus’ beautifully written “Good Looking Out,” an essay about a drug-dealing student he councils. Lemus laments toward the end of the piece “I hope to possess the powers to remove all the variables in this experiment of life that make him the successful study in deviant behavior instead of the successful youth he is capable of becoming.” While Lemus knows the chances are slim, he takes comfort that the student hasn’t completely given up hope for himself and his unexplored talent as an artist.
And finally “Riding in Cars with Strangers” by Eva Brune. A short story in the “What Drives L.A.” section of the journal that grows from a humorous depiction of neighboring drivers on the streets of Los Angeles “there are hot heads, bed heads, roller heads and dead heads” to the explosively poignant moment when the narrator witnesses a fellow driver spew vitriol at his cheating wife, calling her a whore in front of their children who are strapped into car seats in the back of their car. Brune’s narrator drives on, watching the husband in her rearview mirror while thinking “about the burden of choice and the pain of having made the wrong decision.”
Overall, while Inscape 2005 strives to present material in a compelling and entertaining way, its frenetic look coupled with its very safe layout creates a tug of war between the predictable and the unpredictable in this volume, making it a less than remarkable read.