Review – GRANTA 118: Exit Strategies by John Freeman

TITLE:  GRANTA 118: Exit Strategies
EDITOR: John Freeman
PUBLISHER: Granta (12 Addison Ave.London, W11 4QR, U.K.) (30 January 2012)
ISBN: 9781905881550        256pages

Reviewed by Ann Skea ([email protected]http://ann.skea.com/).

I always thought that Douglas Adams’s dolphins had the perfect exit line: ” So long, and thanks for all the fish” . But was that part of an exit strategy? My dictionary defines ‘strategy’ in terms of the art of war, planning, and self-protection, but Granta‘s interpretation of it is much broader. It covers, as the advertising blub tells us, “how we get ourselves out and the repercussions that follow”, which includes war but also the contemplation and remembering of many different sorts of endings, such as the end of a writing career, of a love affair, dying, memory loss, extradition and environmental disaster.

As always, the pieces chosen for this issue are unconventional, entertaining, thought-provoking and well-written. The writers, photographer and poets come from many different backgrounds, cultures and countries. Some are well known, like John Barth, who wonders whether a recent hiatus in his writing after fifty-three years of being published is ‘The End?’. Clearly not! Others are newer voices, like Jacob Newberry, whose ‘Summer’ explores the uncertainties of gay friendship.

Some pieces are factual or based on fact. Susan Minot’s,’Thirty Girls’, tells the story of Sister Giulia, a Catholic nun caught up in the kidnapping of her schoolgirl charges by the Lord’s Resistance Army in northern Uganda. Other pieces are pure fiction. David Long’s, ‘Bonfire’, reads like a young man’s erotic fantasy remembered years later when the domesticity of marriage and children dominate his life. Claire Messud deals with her own feelings when a writing commission takes her away from her dying father to Beirut, where, with only a sketch-map hastily drawn by him from memory, she tries to find the places where he spent his happy childhood. And Vanessa Manko imagines an interview and the resulting deportation from the U.S.A of a Russian man during the roundups of supposed communists and anarchists in the early 1920s.

Stacy Kranitz’s poignant photographs of a family living on the disappearing Isle de Jean Charles in the Gulf of Mexico, show the effects of the world’s rapidly rising sea-levels. And four very different poems explore endings, searches, losses and the puzzle of life. The poetry is not easy, but like all good poetry it condenses powerful emotions and thoughts into brief, vivid experiences for the reader.

And there is much more. The complete list of contents can be seen on the Granta website at www.granta.com/Archive/Exit-Strategies, where you will also find additional exit-strategies posted on the Granta blog and a range of sample pieces from the Granta archive.

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Ann Skea

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