Dusting Off the Relics: Why We’re Excited to Publish Josephine Rowe’s “The Vending Machine at the End of the World,” “Dixieland,” and “The Taxidermist’s Wife”
It was already a few days deep into winter break as I sat in The Iowa Review office trying to read through the last of the fiction submissions before I joined the student exodus out of Iowa City and made my way home for the holidays. The pile of manila envelopes marked with Post-its and scribbled notes seemed to be diminishing at a torturously slow rate, but I drank my coffee and carried on. As a general rule when I’m reading submissions, I try to avoid reading the other readers’ yes’s, no’s, maybe’s, and comments until after I’ve read the piece once, just to keep myself unbiased. However, the unusual combination of the words “Yes—Vending Machine at the End of the World” stood out even in a quick glance over the envelope on which it was written. I couldn’t pretend I hadn’t seen it. I was already excited, imaging a Coke machine floating TARDIS-style against a backdrop of stars. After I read it, I was still excited—enraptured, really. I burst into the managing editor’s office, manuscript in hand.
“Lynne,” I said, “we have to publish this.” It was a simultaneous submission, and I was stricken with anxiety that some other intern at some other magazine was seconds away from leaping to their feet over these stories as well. Thankfully, Lynne agreed with me, and The Iowa Review won the race against my (possibly) imagined fears.
The individual vignettes in Josephine Rowe’s submission were collected under the overarching title “Relics,” and as I read, I felt the dusty corners and cobwebs of lost treasures, loves and naïveté in each of the stories. There was a sense of mystery even when the unmarked button was just a (fucking) Sprite. What’s going to happen next? Where are these people going? How long will they keep dancing? The idea of the doorman’s “sad grace” permeated all of the stories as the characters dreamt other people’s dreams and tried to hold onto something that may or may not have ever been.
The beauty is elusive, but I’m thinking about cutting the stories out of the April issue and taping them to the wall. Just to hold onto some relics of my own.