Deborah Eisenberg's story, titled "Twilight of the Superheroes," which at 40 pages takes up half the journal, is a kind of "The Way We Live Now" tapestry of post-Sept. 11 New York life, and if it reminds us structurally of the late Susan Sontag's classic story of life in the city when AIDS first devastated the populace, Eisenberg's tone is much more Grace Paley, loopy, philosophically penetrating, adolescently excitable by turns. The theme, woven through two strands of narrative, is about how America, even New York itself, has convinced itself that things have "gotten back to normal" after the attacks, when in actuality we've just returned to the consumer/entertainment mindset that preceded the attacks: "the curtain" that rose after Sept. 11 to expose us to the national complicity in international horror, the curtain that rose then to remind us of our mortality has fallen again.
But the crown jewel of the journal is Mark Strand's gorgeously deft poem "The Webern Variations." Though it's the only contribution that doesn't directly address Sept. 11, its theme is facing mortality, so its presence here is hardly out of place. Consciously evoking T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, the poem's about the poet's responsibility to "stitch and sew the shroud of song" in the face of the inner quaking that comes when the "sudden gust" of our mortality attacks us. It's about the challenge to sing death's coming, to hear the "secret voice of being telling us/that where we disappear is where we are." It's poems like this that keep Eisenberg's curtain from falling completely and best illuminate Shawn's effort in Final Edition to respond humanely to the task of taking the national narrative back from the third-rate hacks and returning it to a master.
Final Edition edited by Wallace Shawn; Seven Stories Press; www.sevenstories.com. Magazine, 79 pages, $10.