In this wonderfully interconnected, hyper-linked world, in which one interest so easily leads to discovery of another, you may suddenly find that you have clicked your way to somewhere new and completely unexpected. In my case, it went something like this: twitter – Shelf Unbound Magazine – Matt Bell’s story “The Cartographer” – How They Were Found – completely blown away – Dzanc books – browsing The Collagist… then following a growing number of online literary magazines. Now I reluctantly confess that I don’t fit the likely profile of a literary journal reader – I am neither MFA grad nor academic, neither writers’ writer nor literary hipster. So with an eye more that of curious and adventurous reader than that of an expert, I am thrilled to share with LitStack readers highlights of some of the journals I’m exploring, starting with Issue 24 of The Collagist.
For those who are unfamiliar, The Collagist is an online literary journal from independent publisher Dzanc books, committed to “powerful, progressive literature” including short fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry, excerpts and book reviews. “The Hat,” by Ben Loory and “The Wreck,” by Natanya Ann Pulley were two of the short fiction selections that especially stood out for me in the July issue. In “The Hat,” a young man harbors an irrational fear of, and futilely attempts to flee, a menacing, ever-reappearing hat. The story is playful, funny, and delightfully surprising in its conclusion, in one sentence leaving the reader suspended in humor, near-terror, and romantic tension. “The Wreck” is a more wrenching, mortally ominous tale, in which an auto insurance adjuster has mysterious, degenerative symptoms – small slips of language, word substitutions, “mis-thoughts” that he can no longer explain away. He is moved by devastating pictures of the wrecks he reports on; he himself becomes a wreck, losing control over his own body.
The poem “Laundry” by Israeli poet Raquel Chalfi (translated from Hebrew by Tsipi Keller) was striking in its use of contrast between images of delicate, fluttering laundry on a washline and inner turbulence and darkness. The idea that one could pull out each inner demon or haunting ghost from the past and hang it out to air, to be bleached and purified in the wind and sun, is extremely compelling.
Rhythm and repetition build up emotional power in Liz Scheid’s creative non-fiction piece “In the Language Of,” a story of an unplanned pregnancy. At first glance it is an intellectual exploration – simply and cleanly written, with scientific, carefully controlled words – but those same words give voice to a chaotic flood underneath:
By chromosomes, I mean complex.
By complex, I mean a good wine should have many flavors and aromas.
I mean emotional reactions are complex, competing.
As in somatic theories: body responses are essential to emotions…
By this, I mean a complex emotional reaction is healthy.
As in harmony. Mind. Body. Spirit.
I mean, falling apart.
As in a sudden drop.
As in a sudden loss of clarity. As in transparency.
As in a fear of failure.
As in a survival mechanism.
I also thoroughly enjoyed both excerpts from upcoming/newly released books The Devil All The Time by Donald Ray Pollock (Doubleday, 2011 ) and The Snow Whale by John Minichillo (Atticus, 2011). Among the book reviews, feminist readers will appreciate Jena Salon’s take on Kate Bernheimer’s The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold (FC2, 2011), which explores traditional fairy tales and modern-day princess stories. I was intrigued by Peter Fontaine’s review of Amazing Adult Fantasy by A D Jameson (Mutable Sound, 2011), and Stacy Patton’s review of Vanishing Point, Not A Memoir by Ander Monson (Graywolf Press, 2011), both books that I might well have passed up as too daunting had I come across them myself in a bookstore. In the case of Vanishing Point, which sounds like an extraordinary pairing of printed text and online essays for readers who enjoy thorough and meticulous dissections and deconstructions of words and meanings, the review might even be an essential companion:
It is an experiment in the formal limits of text and the possibilities for the book as both an artifact and an idea. It’s likely to get you thinking, whoever you are—a writer, a gamer, a web designer, a reader, a human being. It is powerful and complex and a whole lot of f*cking fun.
It was very difficult to choose what to include from this issue – there is much more wonderful writing to be enjoyed. I strongly encourage you to go explore for yourself, and happy reading!