The Best Looking Literary Magazine Available
Tin House Issue 70 Winter 2016 (Volume 18, No. 2) fits right into the magazine’s larger aesthetic and approach. In my opinion, Tin House remains the best looking literary magazine on the market. One of the few colorized literary magazines, Tin House chooses a different base color for each issue and colorizes its pages. It has a high quality, soft-to-the-touch cover and has proportions closer to a book than a magazine. The editors choose a piece of art for each issue, usually reflective of a certain theme or topic the magazine addresses. Although sparse, the magazine does carry advertisements.
It’s What’s Inside that Counts
Of course, the magazine’s look doesn’t determine its quality—it’s the words in the magazine that matter most. I have found that, most of the time, Tin House has excellent fiction and nonfiction pieces. Its “Lost & Found” provides exceptional book reviews that focus on old or forgotten books. Rather than previewing upcoming releases, these reviews have narrative elements and describe the impact of the book on the review writer.
Perhaps I’m just not the poetry type, but I usually find Tin House’s selections to be pretty weak. I’ve found that magazines such as the Southern Review carry more consistent work. Like all of the literary magazines reviewed on this site, I will focus in-depth reviews exclusively on the fiction. The star rating for the magazine only reflects this aspect of the magazine.
The Short Stories in Tin House Winter 2016
“The Tomb of Wrestling” by Jo Ann Beard
A highly experimental story about a home invasion/robbery. This piece manipulates time at every line break—sometimes to its own detriment. Because it also changes point of view, it’s a challenging read (though challenging does not mean bad). Give it a go. It will certainly test your reading chops. 3 Stars
“Jack London” by Antonya Nelson
Frankie deals with the death of her brother Anthony—an eccentric and wild man living in an isolated trailer outside of a small Texas town. The story focuses on sibling relationships—Frankie to her sisters, and each sister to Anthony. Nelson portrays Anthony exceptionally well in this piece. As he sits at the center of the emotional and narrative conflict, Nelson crafts a fully-rounded portrayal of a man who remains an enigma to even those closest to him. 4 Stars
“Positive Train Control” by Jim Shepard
I normally really enjoy Jim Shepard’s work and I consider him as one of the strongest and most consistent writers today. This story falls short of his high standards. The first-person narrator lives in a dysfunctional home and works as a train conductor. He lives a depressing life. His parents have kicked him out of the house—quite literally taking apart his bed to get the message across. Ever since the narrator’s brother left home without warning, the family has struggled and fought. No character in the story is guiltless in the dysfunction—a truthful representation that somewhat redeems the story. However, the story itself feels a bit generic. The family focuses so heavily on the missing brother that the implicit comparisons to the narrator get shoved in the reader’s face. The story ends with the narrator going off the tracks, crashing the train, and probably dying. This also felt heavy handed—a somewhat obvious metaphor and a bit of a cop out to finish the story. Although the writing throughout works well, I found the structure and design of the story to be traditional to the point of being obvious. 2 Stars
“Bodies in Space” by Michael Andreasen
To read the full review, click here.
“Zamboni” by Rebecca Makkai
To read the full review, click here.
An Emblematic Issue of Tin House
Although not its strongest issue, any reader looking to explore what Tin House offers would do well to start with the Winter 2016 issue. It shows both the highs and lows of its fiction, with superb stories as well as less than stellar ones. Many of Tin House’s stories get artsy and abstract. I’ve always found that their best selections trend towards the humorous and stay straightforward. The types of stories published, its non-fiction selections, as well as the poetry fall in line with what I’ve come to expect and enjoy from the Tin House editors and staff.