My first thought upon receiving a copy of the Bat City Review was that it sounded like the sort of literary journal that might be published out of Gotham City’s University system, perhaps including poems dedicated to the town’s famed superhero. Alas, I soon discovered that it is both written and published by civilians studying to receive their MFAs at the University of Texas at Austin, though I cannot bring myself to be disappointed. Bat City Review features meticulously selected poetry, visual art, and short stories that, despite humble human beginnings, come together to create a near-heroic 165 page annual.
After reading Bat City’s 2010 issue, I tracked down the fiction editor Matthew Milman. He agreed to meet me at a local coffee shop, and over steaming cups of tea, he filled me in on the review’s history and inner workings. Bat City is run out of the University of Texas’ two graduate creative writing programs. Students volunteer to sort and cull submissions, reading an average of 10 stories a week. Because of the shifting nature of its readers and editors, The Bat City Review does not limit itself to any particular style or theme, but presents a wide body of works reflective of the many people who participate in the process.
Sometimes however, a theme emerges unexpectedly, post-selection. This 2010 issue, Milman informs me, is jokingly referred to as the “Daddy Issues Issue." I had not made the connection before he said it, but nearly every one of the short stories contains this thematic continuity.
“Return Me to the Dirt, My Lord My God” by David Manning features a dysfunctional father-son relationship. The two are so opposite in nature that they can only be united by the presence of a higher father-figure: the formerly estranged and recently deceased grandfather.
“False History” by Christian A. Winn is a wonderful piece about a man re-marrying his ex-wife and getting re-acquainted with his young daughter. The plot spans a day at a wanna-be Vegas resort in rural Nevada. It is mundane but honest, the sort of story you believe really happened, with characters that you are certain exist somewhere.
“Same As It Was When You Left” by Alyssa Knickerbocker takes place around a hospital bed where a father lays dying. The youngest daughter narrates, describing in the second-person the difficult relationship her older sister had with her single-parent father. This is an excellent, complex story of sisterhood, mental illness, and coming of age in a family that is falling apart.
A teenage boy helps his ex-military father tend to the grounds of a lake community in John Ottey’s “Labor Day." I confess that I did not really get anything out of this piece. Just when I thought it was on the verge of saying something, the story retreated back to the malaise of late summer, that seasonal laziness of not really having a point.
There are several ‘daddy-issues’ within Luke Rolfes' “Fish on the Lake’s Floor”. The story is told from the perspective of a small town, as if the interconnectedness of the residents causes their voices to merge into a collective third-person. The narrative centers on the damned-up lake that borders the community; it is the mystery and power of this force of nature that teaches the townspeople about life, love, death, and secrets.
But it was “Hollow Bones," by Matthew Elliott, that really captured my heart. At two pages long, it is thoughtful, quiet, and lovely. It is perhaps the most perfect love story I have ever read – and it is not even a love story. “Hollow Bones” wonders at the divination and fragility of existence, and at what we can make of it - even with the little we are given.
And yes, “Hollow Bones” is also one of the only fiction pieces that does not ascribe to the “Daddy Issues” theme – but the fact that I like it best just means that I am incredibly well-adjusted, right?