BYOS (Bring Your Own Story)
Imagine you are sitting around the table with a group of good friends...perhaps you’ve shared a leisurely dinner, a bottle of wine or three, and now chair legs scrape the floor and napkins fall to the table as the stories begin to flow…
Monkeybicycle has somehow managed to capture this jovial essence within its cover, creating a literary journal that’s very much like a good friend. The deeper I got into the conversation, the more fascinating it became…I couldn’t wait to see where it would go…it made me laugh – out loud. The cute lemon-colored cover became a familiar hug each time we parted and met again.
Overtones of Curious George aside (Man in a Yellow Hat, anyone?), this is a lit mag with a winning equation: 2 issues of print/year and an online presence updated each Monday and Friday. With a high-energy NYC reading series “Lightning Round”, one-sentence stories, blog, and podcasts, this is not just a journal, but a community of dedicated literary lovers spreading “literary goodness”. An imprint of Dzanc Books (Ann Arbor, MI) since 2007, Monkeybicycle is out there to prove that the little guys can deliver the goods.
The best fiction of this issue features characters with just a whiff of familiar – the neighbor, the townie from your high school graduating class, that guy who is famous for something, your hairdresser’s daughter’s boyfriend, the monster in the closet. While they may not always be the most reliable sources, they can sure weave a good yarn.
“Like this is what I need after a long day at Gino’s…All I want to do is soak my feet in Espom salt and finish Salem’s Lot and maybe blog about the state/demise of our country, but there is an orange notice of violation taped to my front door which is sure to put me in a mood, as in: Fuck, now this, what next?!”
Meet Donald Mason: one overgrown Papa Gino’s employee brazenly standing up for autonomy and his slice of the American dream: his un-shoveled winter sidewalk. The plot thickens faster than the ice as Donald Mason nurses whiskey/Cokes and fingers the closed blinds at his stakeout post, waiting to confront his unsuspecting ex-technical college classmate turned city official: “Now it’s just a matter of time, like Dan and I are caught in a two-man tug-of-war and within the day one of us will be singing the blues and Dan is essentially Napoleon sending his troops to Russia at the height of winter…”
When Donald Mason’s power play inevitably erupts in his own face, it seems like enough fall to send even the biggest of hubris’ home with tail between legs, but author Blake Kimzey hits pitch perfect by having Mason resurrect his battle with even more confidence and scathing humor: “I hold the red notice and turn it over in my hands. I picture Dan Lowery watching me from some barely camouflaged location just down the street, maybe eating pita and listening to “Eat, Pray, Love” on tape. I resist the urge to scan the neighborhood. That’s what he’d want.” With Donald Mason, Kimzey manages to capture small town pride and paranoia in a delightfully original voice.
THE GIRLFRIEND’S FATHER:
“In 1986, Hannah’s father renounced Taoism and divorced Hannah’s mother, and reunited with his band. Now, instead of fastening his penis to his whammy bar, he fastened it to the wristwatch of his bassist, who stood directly behind him…Thundershit was back. He was dead by the new millennium.”
Ben Nickol’s “Exceptional Red Canoes” chronologically presents a somewhat unchronological story consisting of multiple points of view. If that sounds confusing, it isn’t. It is an ambitious telling that draws on journalism and children’s narrative to create the story of the domino effect that one very famous, risqué 80’s rocker has on the trajectory of his daughter’s boyfriend’s life. With subtitles such as “II. Dennis Draws Conclusions, and IV. Dennis Becomes One of Twelve Varsity Mascots”, the story magnifies the minutiae of life’s decisions with burning irony. In ‘Red Canoes’, Nickol creates an original compass for mapping a common life-condition: courting the apparition of a love long lost.
“This message is a violation, I know. Mark it down with everything else I’ve done.” So begins Scott Geiger’s story “Inventory”; the narrator dictating the tale of a co-worker’s suicide to his ex-officemate and lover. “It has been a hard winter for Inventory. Your departure. Nolasco’s death. The decline of industries nationwide and the gloom long cast over our sector now certain to darken. Whose future will we supply?”
His questions and the mystery over the life of the deceased Nolasco drive the confessional narrative forward. As he pieces together the scraps of a dead man’s imaginary wife, he recalls the details of their own lost affair: “We were in our room at Airy Sweets, eating steak sandwiches in bed…We chewed, our ankles interlocking, and sipped wine from those Styrofoam cups. Beyond our feet, in the window, a succession of airliners reeled in from the darkest parts of the sky.” In telling Judy what he knows about the dead man, he forces himself to surface, alive again in her life, clinging to their memories and hoping he is not becoming just a figment of her imagination.
While much of the fiction was of standout quality, poetry seemed to be somewhat of an afterthought for Monkeybicycle, merely peeking in at intervals, clever and cross-eyed. The longer piece “Variations on a Blossoming Marriage” caught my eye with its alphabetical categorization of metaphorical flower relationships: “Dragon’s Tongue: He liked to speak in idioms…He put his hand on my knee. The bloody knuckles tormented me. Use lotion, for Chrissakes.” Spiked equal parts sweet and sour, it was a playful piece that spoke to the games of lovers.
Monkeybicycle contributors include many ‘lit-heads’, a term I will coin to refer to those writing hard for little to no pay. Many author bios include publications in various small literary journals, novels published by small indie presses, and a literary blog or online journal or two to their name. There are a lot of us out there. Monkeybicycle can give you a place setting with your name at the table, and good company to share, but you’re going to have to bring your own dish to share – and that’s the glory of a potluck, people.