Bluffton University Nature Preserve, Ohio: Winter Liminal

Bluffton_natureBY DAVE ESSINGER

This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

The snow in the fields is crisscrossed by finger-wide tracks, and otherwise pristine.  One might imagine sticks dragged by wandering wraiths, absent-minded visitors from the other side, but with no other marks at all, at first I can’t guess what really made these traces.

Eventually it dawns on me that the tracks are made from beneath the surface and not above: mice moving under the snow.  It’s another “other side,” a real other realm, and a reminder: not everything we register at the interface of our world originates there.

The mouse-trails wind and cross and begin and disappear, and show up in any depth of snow, but they never break the surface that I can see.  I imagine furry mouse-submariners pawing and digging, navigating by scent and temperature and pressure and dead reckoning, never breaching periscope depth.  I wonder if lazier mice re-use others’ tunnels or, lacking that kind of foresight, they just go, honeycombing the snow, and with each new errand, extending.  We see only the most peripheral capillaries of a vast temporary circulatory network.  Mouse-bodies moving like blood, pushed by the beat of a heart bigger than them, bigger than any of us.

My own blood pushes up beneath my exposed skin, a constant heat-exchange, a one-sided streaming toward entropy.  It’s five degrees below zero, and I’m not dressed for contemplation.  My eyelashes bead and freeze from my breath.

From here, I could run out on the ice of the lake, above slumbering fish in the grave-cold muck, their own suspended dimension.  The ice could be a bridge to tiny islands I only see from shore in summer.  It also might break beneath me—there’s no knowing its thickness.

No one knows I’m here.

Suddenly, right at my feet, here is a new trail being made: a raised line, a mouse meandering, a drawing tracing itself.  I watch the snow lift as the mouse burrows along.  The arched roof of the tunnel lasts for a while, and I imagine the light shining through, blue-white, the snow holding its dome in the wake of the warm mouse bullet body that made it.

Some trails must end in a scuffle: there are foxes, owls.  Prowling cats.  I could excavate the one in front of me, crash its ceiling, let in annihilating light with my shoe.  Untouched, it will end in silent powdery collapse—and then vanish with wind, or melt, or new snow.

I’m in a moving mandala, traces on a membrane that draws and erases itself.  Already, I’ve stood still too long, the cold grasping for me across all these liminal boundary layers.

No one knows I’m here.

Dave Essinger’s recent work has appeared in Mud Season Review, Sport Literate, Quarter After Eight, and elsewhere, and was listed as a Notable in The Best American Sports Writing 2014. He received his MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and now teaches creative writing and edits the literary magazine Slippery Elm at the University of Findlay. He’s shopping a novel about ultrarunning, which was shortlisted for the Caledonia Novel Award. 

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Walker, Minnesota: Old Haunts


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

We had postponed this trip for six years, but now it sped toward us. Mom’s foot a balancing act on the pedal, ever so lightly pressing down as her own sinews pushed back. We sat in the backseat calculating her trepidation by the number of times she turned the radio down or adjusted her grip on the wheel. The mid-model Ford teetered, accelerated then coasted to the rhythm of so many years rushing through her head. This was always Pete’s vacation spot – a tiny row of cabins in Minnesota, in a town which no one cared to remember the name.

If it wasn’t for the screened-in porch we would have been eaten alive by mosquitoes every day after sundown, and it wasn’t worth it to complain to the site manager that the air conditioning never worked  – didn’t then, didn’t now. I pulled the windows open, turned the ceiling fans on high and lugged the crushed ice from the car to the coolers, hoping to stave off the sweat already running down my back.

It wasn’t so difficult for us. In fact, my sister Ann and I looked forward to it. As a family we had driven the 8 hours here every summer when we were younger, staying a few weeks with Uncle Pete and his kids, Tommy and Louise, and getting away from what Mom called “the hazards of the city.” Chicago was nice, yeah, but it seemed like there was salvation in those days spent among the trees, mimicking the calls of the loons as they glided atop the lake.

We were located in what was called the Paul Bunyan State Forest, and the locals had a 40-ft tall replica of Bunyan himself to make sure the point came across. The first few times we made the trek up this way it was somewhat of a tradition to pose for pictures in front of the statue, and we were each sure to pack at least one flannel to do our best lumberjack impression.

When Pete died the cabin remained, occupied by other families drawing the same joy from the getaway as we once did. And it no longer made sense to Mom to make the trip with Pete gone, which she chalked up to work and the economy. In truth, it was too hard on all of us, but in time, Ann and I were able to exact the memory of our uncle from the cabin itself, dividing our hearts into tiny compartments that stored the traces of his image behind tightly shut doors.

Mom had seen him drink himself to death, however. We were too young to detect his trembling hand,  his patchy skin, the extended belly; each summer it got more noticeable, but since we only ever saw Pete once a year she knew there was nothing she could do to stop him. Six years ago he stopped himself, passing out on the floor and never rising again, discovered by his daughter several hours later.

The cabin sat on Benedict Lake, but we always called it Leech Lake because twice I had come out of the water with leeches attached to my legs, hurdling toward the adults to scrape them off. I don’t know how much blood was taken from me, but I know Mom and Pete threw their heads back in laughter at the sight of me waddling like a duck fearing my legs would have to be amputated.

The real blood loss came when Pete passed away. Though there was no physical stain, there was a slow trickling of life that left us all, seeping from the veins we shared.

Our first time back, I let Mom open the door and walk in alone.

She scans the eggshell walls, counts the slacks in the wooden floor, positions the ghost of Pete in the recliner he used to sit in, and pieces together a life she had avoided for some time.

For her this was a baptism, and for us it felt like home.

Michael O’Neill is a fiction and poetry writer residing in Chicago. His work has appeared in Nanoism, Literary Orphans, Unbroken Journal, WhiskeyPaper and the Journal of Microliterature, among others.

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Superior, Wisconsin: The Face of Surrender

Helgi porcupine round two



This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

We adopted Helgi, a Giant Alaskan Malamute, just three days after Thanksgiving, and by our first spring together I recognized in him a shared personality trait, what I like to think of as tenacity, and what others might call stubbornness. Weighing in at 124 pounds, Helgi – Icelandic for ‘celebration’ – is an outdoor dog the size of a small pony with fur frosting white. As a hunter, you can always tell from the quality of his barking what he has cornered, and at four a.m. that spring morning I awoke to the high-pitched yelps that meant Helgi could only be celebrating one thing: porcupine.

I flew out of bed, banded a headlamp around my forehead, and shoved my feet into the first shoes I could find – my daughter’s garden Crocs. Wearing a thin, black slip nightgown, I charged out into the woods.

“No, Helgi. Leave the porcupine alone!” I yelled into the night, no moon, no stars. I followed the barking, left the path, and barreled up a hill that sloped along the east side of our house. The incline spanned a good acre, crammed with deadfall and spindly branches that poked and stabbed through the flimsy Crocs as I wobbled along, screeching, “You will NOT eat this porcupine, Helgi! You will NOT!”

We had other dogs get quilled before, but Helgi was the first dog that tried to eat the bugger. Three weeks prior, when the porcupines came out of hibernation, Helgi came onto the porch, paws bloodied and head slung low. His face wore a thick beard of quills, the ivory points long and tipped elegantly in black. Helgi couldn’t close his mouth or lie down or drink water. He swung his head between bruised paws and stumbled blind with pain.

Five-hundred dollars, forty-eight hours, and one overnight stay at the emergency vet hospital later, he was back to his sweet-natured self: a gentle giant with the tongue of a butterfly.

The first time the vet told us that Helgi had quills inside his gums, through his tongue, and all down the sides of his throat. The second time they speared through his nose like exotic African bone jewelry. The third time the quills were confined to a crowded patch around his snout; the fourth time I was so disgusted I could hardly look.

In the beams of my roving headlamp, I caught him leaping and pouncing around a downed balsam fir, tail raised like a flag. He barked and yipped and jabbed with his snout. I shone my light along the tree big as a canoe, and there was the porcupine, scurrying in circles with the halo of his quills pulsing like a shivering star.

We had spent nearly one thousand dollars on porcupine quill removal, and I was not going watch the last of our savings slip away. I broke off a spiney branch from the deadfall and wielded it like a jousting stick to prod my dog. Helgi snapped and growled. The porcupine dodged sideways and Helgi darted after him. I threw myself between them, standing in too-small shoes on a steep grade littered with woodland debris, wearing a stupid nightgown. I knocked into logs and branches, screaming like a crazy person. We fought and hollered in the dark for what seemed like twenty minutes before we ended up close enough to the house to wake my husband and two kids. They arrived, corralled the dog, and the porcupine escaped.

Porcupines can’t really run. They sort of wobble back and forth, their quills — though deadly in the face of a dog — are really no more than toothpick-sized straws that move together like waves of wheat. He was larger than a school globe but with a small face, and he held his hands in front of him fretfully as he hustled away. The porcupine ended up on our porch, standing in the corner like a chastened pupil, his back to the world. He stayed that way for nearly a full hour.

Meanwhile the sky turned a weak-kitten gray as my husband and I assessed our situation. That was when I finally accepted that as long as Helgi was our dog and that porcupine was in our woods, Helgi would continue to get quilled.

We found a box the size of a kitchen cupboard and nudged the porcupine inside – he went rather willingly. My husband took the kids and drove six miles up the road where they opened the box and let him waddle free.

After delivering the porcupine, we loaded Helgi into the back of the minivan. I had found a country vet willing to inject my dog with tranquilizers for a reasonable fee while I removed the quills. I had never done such a thing before, but the vet and his assistant taught me how to use the tools, how to fold back his lips and check along his gums, how to recognize signs of broken quills and squeeze them free. Helgi’s head is bigger than my head, and it was like rooting around inside the mouth of a lion, but I did it. I pulled the quills, plunked down my money, and drove home with our mighty warrior passed out in the minivan.

I drove alone along the back county roads, properly dressed and wearing sensible shoes. A train pulled up on my left, long and sleek and also northbound. I matched its speed and we sped alongside one another as the fields went flying by. I rolled down my windows to hear its roar and we burst through the orange-gold air.

My dog has the intelligence of a toddler and yet we share a mindset. I also believe that if I just try harder, don’t give up, then I’ll get what I want. But sometimes that way of thinking only gets you a mouthful of quills. Sometimes, the right thing to do is just walk away, let it be, and pay the bill.

Carol Dunbar is a vegetarian food writer and mother of two carnivores living off-grid in the woods of Superior, Wisconsin. Her work has been published in Literary Mama, the Midwest Prairie Review, and in the anthologies Writer’s Read Vol. III, and The Heart of All That Is: Reflections on Home, by Holy Cow! Press.

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Elmira, Ontario: Home Sweet Home

Photographer Jerry Manco captured this shot at the Maple Syrup Festival.

Photographer Jerry Manco captured this shot at the Maple Syrup Festival.


This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

There is a Canadian quintessence to Elmira in that it boasts the world’s largest one day Maple Syrup festival. Arthur Street is bisected by a line of smoking tents that dish out pancakes, back bacon and grilled corn. Hayrides shuttle people to and from their cars. Others filter through the quaint streets on foot, passing by driveways where locals sell jam, pussy willow, or the contents of their refrigerators and attics.

Bands take the stage of the town’s green gazebo, inside a triangular park, where a marble soldier stands and honors townsfolk lost in both World Wars and Korea. There is also a fountain dedicated to teens killed in car accidents. When it’s all over, and volunteers are sweeping the streets, over sixty thousand people have visited Elmira, spiking their blood sugar and nourishing the sticky bonds of community in the name of boiled tree sap.

It would all have the atmosphere of pagan woodland revelry if the small town didn’t have more Christian churches than you can shake a hockey stick at: Mennonite, Pentecostal, Trinity, Presbyterian, Catholic, or The Dan Snyder Memorial Arena. The latter temple is where the Junior B hockey team, the Elmira Sugar Kings, nail opponents to the boards, and like countless towns across the country, children hardly able to walk, have razor sharp blades put on their feet, and with shaky legs, glide onto centre ice and learn the chicken dance: “Nana nana nun na na.”

Dan Snyder, by the way, was an NHL centre of great promise. He died an Atlanta Thrasher in 2003: a passenger in the Ferrari that teammate Dan Heatly crashed. For Snyder’s funeral, NHL hegemony descended on Elmira. When Snyder’s family made the short walk from their house to the church (the one without ice) hundreds of boys and girls in hockey jerseys lined the street and clacked their sticks against the pavement. This is the game’s percussive song of sportsmanship, commonly heard when an injured player is taken off the rink, or in this case, into the hands of the Lord, The Keeper.

Elmira is settled in the countryside, just ten minutes north of Waterloo: a thoroughly modern city, globally renowned for its techy pursuits. Elmira, meanwhile, has a robust population of old order Mennonites, who provide the steady ambience of jingling bridles and clip-clopping horse-and buggies. You can wake up in the middle of the night and believe yourself a Victorian Duke or Duchess, before realizing that a Mennonite is just getting his grocery shopping done at the twenty-four-hour Foodland, where he will shop under halogen lights, buy in bulk, and pay with a debit card.

The juxtaposition of Elmira and Waterloo frays the fabric of time (and re-stitches it on an antique loom.) To leave Elmira, on the especially nostalgic New Jerusalem Road, you will surely pass bonneted women selling flowers or produce. There is a house of fieldstone. There is a one-room school, from which boys in caps and suspenders, and girls in long dresses of muted pink and purple, go to and from, walking on the side of the road, swinging metal lunchboxes, or skates in the winter. They never make eye contact, oddly. It’s like you are swooping through a colonial painting as a disembodied ghost.

Five minutes later, and you’re in Waterloo, amongst thousands of university students. Many are computer science prodigies from Asian megacities. Everyone is slung with laptop bags and carries coffee. They text, listen to music and have fashionable, but not timeless, hair and clothes. They also ignore traffic. If you were on campus in September 2012, you might have seen Dr. Stephen Hawking. He was conducting research at the Perimeter Institute of Theoretical physics. With all that in mind, if we could travel forward through time, to the year 2100, I would love to learn that these two cultures cross-pollinated. It could make for a new literary genre. Perhaps cyber-agro punk?

One final anachronism, or charm of Elmira: every day at lunchtime, the fire station produces a siren that the whole town can hear. It wails from beside our bulbous water tower: Lunchtime! But it also functions like doomsday alarms of Cold War America. Why in Elmira? Perhaps because of the Chemtura Plant, which manufactured Agent Orange for American napalm strikes in Vietnam. The siren has sounded before when Chemtura caught fire. A black cloud covered Elmira one sunny morning. I can distinctly remember sitting in traffic to evacuate town, as horse and buggies fled to safety along the shoulder of the road, leaving my parents and me in their dust. It was something close to a religious experience. I was, ironically, on my way to get my G class driver’s license.

Towns with prominent natives and former residents are asked the cliché “Is there something in the water?” And because of Chemtura, Elmira’s drinking water is actually poisonous. So we can in fact say, “Yes, there is something in the water. Don’t drink it!”  A handful of NHL players have roots in Elmira. There are many others who lack celebrity but are formidable with their intelligence and character. We can also be proud that author Malcolm Gladwell once lived in Elmira as a sapling. His writing could very easily be the best thing Elmira has helped to produce, excluding that which you drizzle on pancakes. For all of its residents, and the bucolic imagery it has furnished my mind with, I’m proud to call Elmira home, even as I travel beyond its pastures.

Ed Scherrer is a native of Elmira, Ontario. He is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s Fiction Department. He currently lives in Toronto. 

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1) Mitch Albom—the magic strings of Frankie Presto: a novel (HarperCollins Publishers) [last month #5]

2) John U Bacon—Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football (St. Martin’s Press) [last month #2]

3) David Maraniss—Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 10.11.55 AM (Simon & Schuster) [last month #6]

4) Michael Emmerich—100 Things Michigan State Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (Triumph Books) [last month #11]

5) Tyler Oakley—Binge (Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster) [last month #3]

6) Detroit Free Press—Mr. March (The Free Press/Lansing State Journal)

7) Norma Lewis—Lost Restaurants of Grand Rapids (Arcadia Publishing)

8) Tom Daldin, Jim Edelman, and Eric Tremonti—Under the Radar Michigan: The First 50 (Scribe Publishing Company)

9) Chris Van Allsburg—The Polar Express: 30th Anniversary Edition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers) [last month #1]

10) Emily St. John Mandel—Station Eleven: A Novel (Vintage) [last month #13]

11) Patti Smith—M Train (Knopf) [last month #14]

12) Bonnie Jo Campbell—Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories (W.W. Norton & Co.) [last month #7]

13) Susan Thoms—Twelve Days of Christmas in Michigan (Sterling)

14) Stan Tekeila—Birds of Michigan Field Guide (Adventure Publications)

15) Kevin Allen and Art Regner—Red Wing Nation: Detroit’s Greatest Players Talk about Red Wings Hockey (Triumph Books)



1) Emily St. John Mandel—Station Eleven: A Novel (Vintage) [last month #6]

2) Jerry Dennis—The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes (The University of Michigan Press) [last month #6]

3) Steve Hamilton—A Cold Day in Paradise (Minotaur Books)

4) John Fortunato—Dark Reservations: A Mystery (Minotaur Books) [last month #13]

5) Alison DeCamp—My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) (Crown Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House) [last month #5]

6) Bonnie Jo Campbell–Mothers, Tell Your Daughters (W.W. Norton and Company) [last month #11]

7) Jim Harrison—Brown Dog (Grove Press)

8) M.R. Federspiel–Picturing Michigan’s Hemingway (Wayne State University Press)

9) Charlie LeDuff—Detroit: An American Autopsy (Penguin Books) [last month #13]

10) Jim Harrison—Dead Man’s Float (Copper Canyon Press)

11) Peggy Christian–If You Find a Rock (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

12) Holling C. Holling—Paddle-to-the-Sea (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

13) Aimée Bissonette—North Woods Girl (Minnesota Historical Society Press)

14) Ronald Riekki—Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Michigan State University Press) [last month #8]

15) Ellen Airgood–Prairie Evers (Penguin Books)

15) Aimée Bissonette—North Woods Girl (Minnesota Historical Society Press)

15) Denise Brennan-Nelson—Tallulah: Mermaid of the Great Lakes (Sleeping Bear Press)

The Michigan Bestseller List for December is compiled from 12 Michigan bookstores: Between the Covers in Harbor Springs,; Blue Frog Books in Howell,; Bookbug in Kalamazoo,; Falling Rock Café and Bookstore in Munising,; Great Lakes Books & Supply in Big Rapids,; McLean and Eakin Bookstore in Petoskey,; Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor,; North Wind Books in Hancock,; Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord,; Schuler Books & Music in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Okemos,; and Snowbound Books in Marquette,

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Readings from Issue 6 at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor

Screen Shot 2015-11-01 at 8.21.35 AMJoin us next Monday, Jan. 18 at 7 p.m.  for readings from some of Issue 6′s Michigan contributors at Literati Bookstore, 124 E. Washington, Ann Arbor, MI 48104.

The readers will be:

Michael Zadoorian is the author of two novels, The Leisure Seeker (William Morrow, 2009) and Second Hand (W.W. Norton, 2000), and a story collection, The Lost Tiki Palaces of Detroit (Wayne State University Press, 2009). He is a recipient of a Kresge Artist Fellowship in the Literary Arts, Columbia University’s Anahid Literary Award, the Michigan Notable Book award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His work has been published in The Literary Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, American Short Fiction, North American Review and Detroit Noir.

Michael Steinberg is the founding editor of Fourth Genre: Explorations in Nonfiction. He’s written and co-authored five books and a stage play. Still Pitch­ing won the 2004 ForeWord Magazine/Independent Press Memoir of the Year. Peninsula: Essays and Memoirs From Michiganwas a finalist for the 2000 Foreword Magazine Independent Press Anthology of the Year, as well as for the 2000 Great Lakes Book Sellers Award. Another anthology, The Fourth Genre: Contem­porary Writers of/on Creative Nonfiction (with Robert Root), is in its sixth edition. Steinberg is currently Nonfiction Writer-in-Residence in the Solstice/Pine Manor College MFA program. 

Lynn Pattison, former teacher of the Gifted & Talented in Kalamazoo Pub­lic Schools, attended the University of Michigan and WMU. Pattison’s poems have appeared in The Notre Dame Review, Rhino, Atlanta Review, Har­pur Palate, Rattle and Poetry East, among others, and been anthologized in several venues. Nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize, she is the author of two chapbooks: tesla’s daughter (March St. Press, 2005); Walking Back the Cat (Bright Hill Press, 2006) and a book, Light That Sounds Like Breaking (Mayapple Press, 2006).

Robert James Russell is the author of the novel Mesilla (Dock Street Press), and the chapbookDon’t Ask Me to Spell It Out (WhiskeyPaper Press). He is a founding editor of the literary journalsMidwestern Gothic and CHEAP POP. You can find him online at

To purchase a copy of issue 6, visit


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Issue 6 for sale in print and digital; new publishing schedule announced

GLR_CoverThe Great Lakes Review has big plans for the new year, though our mission of bringing readers the best fiction, poetry and nonfiction from across the region remains the same.

The biggest change is that our volumes will be slimmer as we try to publish more stories and essays online, like our popular Narrative Map series.

With that said, our print submissions have been closed for some time as we catch up with a backlog of work, which we’ve realized is sufficient for our Spring/Summer issue that we’re currently pulling now. Print submissions likely won’t be open again until August 1.

Please bear with us as we go through a bit of a reorganization in our publishing schedule, too.

We are now focused on our Spring/Summer issue, which we hope to have out by May 1. The reading period for the Fall/Winter issue will run from Aug. 1 to Nov. 1, with an anticipated launch date of Dec 1. We will definitely make an announcement when print submissions open back up 

The online Narrative Map essay project is always accepting submissions. Check it out here. 

In the meantime, please take a look at our most recent issue, for sale in print or digitally here. 



Michigan Bestseller list for November 2015

MICHIGAN TOP 15Mothers_daughters

1) Chris Van Allsburg—The Polar Express: 30th Anniversary Edition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)

2) John U Bacon—Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football (St. Martin’s Press) [last month #5]

3) Tyler Oakley—Binge (Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster) [last month #2]

4) Juan Cole—The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East (Simon & Schuster)

5) Mitch Albom—the magic strings of Frankie Presto: a novel (HarperCollins Publishers)

6) David Maraniss—Once in a Great City: A Detroit Story (Simon & Schuster) [last month #7]

7) Bonnie Jo Campbell—Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories (W.W. Norton & Co.) [last month #3]

8) Deborah Diesen—The Not Very Merry Pout-Pout Fish (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

9) Chris Van Allsburg—Jumanji: 30th Anniversary Edition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers)

10) Ruta Sepetys—between shades of gray (Speak/Penguin Books)

11) Michael Emmerich—100 Things Michigan State Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die (Triumph Books)

12) Katherine Applegate—Crenshaw (Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan) [last month #8]

13) Emily St. John Mandel–Station Eleven: A Novel (Vintage) [last month #9]

14) Patti Smith—M Train (Knopf) [last month #1]

15) Mardi Link—Wicked Takes the Witness Stand: A Tale of Murder and Twisted Deceit in Northern Michigan (University of Michigan Press) [last month #12]

U.P. TOP 15

1) Ellen Airgood—South of Superior: A Novel (Riverhead Books/Penguin Books USA)

2) Mardi Link—The Drummond Girls: A Story of Fierce Friendship Beyond Time and Chance (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group)

3) Loren R. Graham—A Face in the Rock: The Tale of a Grand Island Chippewa (University of California Press)

3) Ernest Hemingway—The Nick Adams Stories (Scribner Publishing/Simon & Schuster) [last month #2]

5) Alison DeCamp–My Near-Death Adventures (99% True) (Crown Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House) [last month #6]

6) Jerry Dennis–The Windward Shore: A Winter on the Great Lakes (The University of Michigan Press)

6) Emily St. John Mandel–Station Eleven: A Novel (Vintage) [last month #4]

8) Ronald Riekki—Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Michigan State University Press) [last month #6]

9) Bonnie Jo Campbell—Once Upon a River: A Novel (W.W. Norton & Company) [last month #5]

10) Christian Holmes—Company Towns of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (Arcadia Publishing) [last month #8]

11) Annie Appleford—M is for Mitten: A Michigan Alphabet (Sleeping Bear Press)

11) Bonnie Jo Campbell—Mothers, Tell Your Daughters: Stories (W.W. Norton & Co.) [last month #9]

13) John Fortunato—Dark Reservations: A Mystery (Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press)

13) R. Bruce Larson—Secrets and Rivals: Wartime Letters and the Parents I Never Knew (University of Missouri Press)

13) Charlie LeDuff—Detroit: An American Autopsy (Penguin Books)

The Michigan Bestseller List for November is compiled by @TheWayNorthWSUP/@RonRiekki, from thirteen Michigan bookstores: Between the Covers in Harbor Springs,; Bookbug in Kalamazoo,; Falling Rock Café & Bookstore in Munising,; Grandpa’s Barn in Copper Harbor,; Great Lakes Books & Supply in Big Rapids,; McLean and Eakin Bookstore in Petoskey,; Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor,; North Wind Books in Hancock,; Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord,; Schuler Books & Music in Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Okemos,; and Snowbound Books in Marquette,

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Buy a digital version of Issue 6 for just 6 bucks!



For a short time only, we’re offering a digital version of the newest issue of the Great Lakes Review for just $6. Just click on the button to pay and we’ll send you a PDF of the new issue, which features includes poetry, fiction and drama from Michael Zadoorian, Ron Riekki, Dianne Borsenik, Craig Cotter, Michael Steinberg, Devin Murphy, Grace Epstein, Daniel Perry, Emily Kathryn Utter, Chris Pannell, Eugene Ostashevsky, Robert James Russell, Donald G. Evans & Carolyn Saper, Zachary Lee, Brigit Kelly Young, Michael Dunwoody, Dylan Weir, Terence Huber, Kathe Gray, Mary Hawley, Amorak Huey, Lynn Pattison, Mark Ramirez and Janeen Pergrin Rastall.

Buy a $6 digital version of the issue below: 


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Red Lake Falls, Minnesota: The Emptiness



This essay is part of the Great Lakes Review’s Narrative Map project.

After my grandfather’s funeral I asked my sister to drive me out to the farm. I don’t know why I didn’t have my own car, nor where my husband and daughter were. They might even have been in the backseat.

I do remember that my sister —nervous about messy emotion – looked skeptical. I was a noisy mourner, given to snotty hiccupping and weeping, and it made her apprehensive. But she’s a good egg, and makes allowances for grief, even if she would rather not demonstrate it herself.  We drove out there.

The farm. 200 acres anchored by a sagging crooked house and a gorgeous barn, the old-fashioned kind with red wood slats and a hayloft. There was a chicken coop grandma had turned into a kid’s playhouse when she finally got rid of her hens and a shed, filled with gears and bolts and marvelous mechanical stuff, including a go-cart grandpa cobbled out of old parts. In the back, an outhouse was slowly falling into the soil.

I hadn’t been there for years.  I’d been out of the country­­–literally on a boat in the Amazon–when grandma had died unexpectedly, two years before. In those days before cell phones, one had to buy a ficha to use the big yellow street phones the Brazilians called “Orelias’” because they were shaped like giant ears. By the time I could get to a phone for my regular call home, even the leftovers from grandma’s funeral casseroles were gone.

Maybe this was why my grieving was more ragged than the rest of my family. They’d done their shocked and noisy mourning at grandma’s funeral. They’d witnessed grandpa’s decline, and had said their goodbyes to the farm.

The farm was in the middle of the middle of nowhere, where Minnesota meets Canada. Colder than a witch’s tit, as they say.  Hard to get to.  I got pregnant right after I came back from Brazil, which might explain why I never made the drive from Chicago to visit Grandpa.  Then one autumn day he took the pickup and got lost. The neighbors found him half-ditched and disoriented. So the decision was made to put him in a home.  He did not transplant well.  He had planted potatoes, lost fingers and interred children in that farm, dug wells, dug graves and crawled home in the ruts in the road during a blizzard.  He died shortly after he left it. And, when it became clear that none of his children were interested in moving to the middle of the middle of nowhere, the farm was sold.

So I was trespassing when I stepped out of the car that February day. And it was colder than a witch’s tit. My sister stayed in the front seat with the heater on, looking worried she might have to comfort me. I somehow knew that the new owners were out of town—probably the neighbors had told us. I pulled boots on under my funeral dress, and circled the place, hearing the crunch of ice crystals mixed with clods of dirt, knowing I might not ever be there again. Seeing my childhood in every doorway and tree branch. The wind blew ribbons of new snow sideways across pitted gravel, and my freezing breath stiffened my scarf.

My grandparents had kept a dairy herd far longer than anyone their age should have. Even after they stopped, the magical red barn kept that warm cow smell for a long time. But eventually, only occasional whiffs in the farthest corners yielded the heady aroma of hay and manure. Filled with longing, I yanked open the door and stepped inside.

I gasped like I’d been doused. It was probably twenty degrees warmer. I had a sense of the building breathing, of moist exhalations and the warm, stubborn aliveness that one feels when surrounded by animals. My eyes adjusted and I saw two goats staring warily. A disinterested cow lifted its head. Chickens fluttered from a beam. I inhaled. I breathed and I breathed. I was inhaling comfort. And wisdom and something weirdly close to joy: certainly acceptance and peace. The place was as it should be.

I stayed longer than I meant to, gingerly making friends with the goats. Finally I came out and got in my sister’s car, making sure there was no manure on my boots. She looked at my dry eyes with surprise.

If farm life demonstrates nothing else, it is that for us animals, life is transient. The comfort and sense of rightness that infused me that day stayed with me until my mother died. Then, the last link gone, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that my thoughts circled back to the farm.

Mom used to describe how, after dinner and the chores were done, she’d pedal a rickety bike past yellow fields to the mailbox a mile away.  She’d begin slowly, watching the foxes play in the shadows. But at a certain point, the lingering northern twilight would shift, and the sky would begin to pull in around her, drawing in the dome of night and dark. Thrilled and a little frightened, she’d rush back, racing the bats streaming out of the hayloft into the twilight. When she described it her face was transformed, like a private moon was washing her in an aching silver light.

My kids will never see that of course, or the farm. It seems impossible, that something so solid can be wiped away in a generation­­ – the winter-locked fields, stars frozen in skies so frigid no moisture can obscure their glow; the summertime shimmer of northern lights; the root cellar; the milkhouse. The sweet corn. The emptiness. The cold—oh my God, the cold.

As we drove away that February, I pictured my grandfather, wearing his moccasins as he broke through ice crystals in the grassy mud, pointing at an old moose plodding down the ditch.

Rebecca Keller is an artist and writer, teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2012, her book of art and essays: “Excavating History” was published. She has published fiction in New Fairy Tales, Calyx, The Public Historian, in “Crossing Lines” from Main Street Rag Press, Alimentum and other journals. Keller has received the Joan Jakobson Award from the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference, a Pushcart nomination, the Betty Gabehart prize, and was a finalist for the 2013 Chicago Literary Guild Prose Award. She has been awarded a Fulbright and grants from the NEA.

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