I had several firsts this week as I enjoyed my first issues of American Short Fiction, Keyhole, and Quick Fiction. I was duly impressed by all three publications. Actually, I lie. I’ve read the Handwritten Issue of Keyhole, too and I’ve read the ASF Pin Ups online. Okay, not so much for the firsts.
I was most skeptical of ASF because that’s simply my nature. The stories in the Summer 2009 issue, however, were remarkable and ASF‘s reputation as a home for excellent fiction is very well-deserved.
Elegy for Elwood LePoer (1971-1992) by Christie Hodgen
Mask of Destiny by Karen Gentry
Two stories by J. Erin Sweeney
Brightness, Luminosity, and Distance by Kirsten Marcum
The Universe in Miniature in Miniature by Patrick Somerville
Of these six stories, I enjoyed four. Of those four, I’m going to talk about three–the stories by J. Erin Sweeney and Kirsten Marcum. Sweeney’s Scenes From The Fight Class is a tight, aggressive three paragraphs quite literally drawing scenes from a fight class. But it is the last line that is the most powerful, “NO one can hurt you, they say, without first moving this.” I love stories that are specific and vague, literal and full of subtext all at the same time. This story accomplishes these things deftly. Her story Response reminded me a great deal of Ryan Boudinot’s The Miner in Monkeybicycle 6, playing on allegory in a reality where people avoid food to avoid illness. It is a haunting little peace that again uses the same economy of language to tell a very rich story. Excellent stuff.
Kirsten Marcum’s Brightness, Luminosity, and Distance is a story of a woman (Carrie) who leaves her husband, goes to a class reunion, meets a classmate (Ruth) she didn’t really know who is dying of cancer and then moves in with that woman until she dies. This is my kind of story–the one where the characters are all kinds of fucked up but you still yearn for them and love them. They do things that make you cringe and still you can’t look away. This story accomplishes what I often note in submissions we reject–it’s fine to write about subjects that have been written about time and again, but do something different. In Brightness, Luminosity, and Distance, that difference is there and it is brilliant.
Quick Fiction 15 is a tight tight collection of writing and I was introduced to many writers with whom I was not familiar. So many of the stories in this issue were stark and horrifying and simply astounding. Stefan Kiesbye’s story of a shoe store clerk with a tendency to stalk and a much older woman should be disturbing but it is also somewhat poignant. The real standout of the issue is Andrea Kneeland’s The Practical Application of Beauty, about a man and a hustler and a hotel room and a very unhappy ending. What I particularly appreciated about this story (that title!), was the attention to detail. For example, “The skin of the eyelids was rice-paper thin, the slight bulge of the iris, the shape of its immobility visible beneath.” Â Other favorites were Elizabeth Ellen’s Heist and her portrayal of a woman between two lovers, Stolen Goods by Spencer Wise a clever piece about a boy and a bathroom and pictures of his sister and inappropriate behavior, and The Cost of Lighting by Mabel Y, a story that, like all the stories in this issue, does so much with so little.
Keyhole 7 is one of those issues that made me chuckle because a couple of the pieces had been in our submission queue back when we were lagging behind so I had read them and it was a good reminder as to why editors should stay on top of things. This is a strong issue and I appreciate the editorial vision that creates cohesion betweeen a wide range of writing styles. Â This issue included more of Scott Garson’s Gymnopedies which I really enjoyed. That enjoyment increased when I opened my dictionary to look up the definition of a gymnopedie. That was useful. I am, as ever, a rocket scientist. Ryan Call had an excellent story, I Pilot My Bed Deep Into the Night, from the same weather torn world in which his story in Caketrain 6 is set (more on that issue later). Gary Moshimer’s The Fat Lady Sang is one of those stories that has so many witty, sly lines that you stop underlining passages because you’ll only end up marking up the whole of every page. The story I enjoyed most, however, was Tim Jones-Yelvington’s Everyday Zoology.
In Everyday Zoology, the story begins with a lovely epigraph from Jorge Luis Borges. I am not often a fan of epigraphs but this one was well-placed. This is a story where the writer makes the ordinary extraordinary. The prose is dense and imaginative and for me, at least, the story really spoke to the idea of something animalistic in all of us. I was also impressed by the way TJY expressed motherhood in this story as something dreamy and lonely and routine and unique. He used the second person (something with which I am quite obsessed) and for this story I thought it was a smart smart move. The second person doesn’t always work, but when it does, it really does. Â The last line is also fantastic. It brings such a masterful conclusion to this story: “You open your mouth, fanged and shrieking.”