Reflections on a dark Sun

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The literary magazine The Sun is just beyond 30 years old, but it hasn’t swerved a bit from its singular course through the dark side of human nature. Sy Safransky has been the editor throughout the mag’s lifespan, nurturing an editorial outlook that shines its spotlight on our deepest, darkest moments.

I spent an hour in bed after I woke up this morning reading the July issue. This is the work of the writer, too, I rationalized. We need to read where we hope to be published. Yes, even this celebration of life’s train wrecks stands on my list of hopes, because The Sun is uniformly well-written.

The centerpiece of the magazine, which constantly clocks in at 48 pages, is Readers Write. This deep well of human experience, related in first-person prose, recounts things that really have happened. Non-fiction only, explain the submission guidelines. The magazine’s staff reports these peeled off skins of truth are “edited, often quite heavily, but contributors often have the opportunity to approve or disapprove of editorial changes prior to publication.” Readers Write follows themes, simple as “Nothing to Lose.”

As I lay in bed reading this month’s 8-page collection of stories on “Waking Up,” I began to wonder if the staff was editing the pieces to darken them. After all, this 15 percent of the magazine included reports from a 10-by-10 prison cell; nightmares in the days leading to breast cancer surgery; a family pet tortured by young boys; an abusive alcoholic husband blaming his wife for their divorce; a suicide attempt survived without explanation; a shotgun-wielding parent who frightens his teenager into a fatal crash; Bosnian children returning to an occupied home where soldiers had left a live bomb; a sex offender failing to hold a job…

There are moments of joy and hope in The Sun — one reader wrote of wishing good things for his kids if he woke at 2:22 or 3:33 in the morning, and another recounted the joyous morning she woke up to JFK’s election. But for a magazine so named, The Sun howls in a dark tone much of the time. Its subjects, however, are the thing we are drawn to in stories: trouble, tragedy, conflict and complications. But like the short fiction of Annie Proulx, (stagger through her Heart Songs collection, if you dare) The Sun doesn’t feel compelled to lift its troubled people out of their woes. Maybe its prose, poetry and black and white photos aim to make the rest of us feel lucky.

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