Literary Goodness Bursting From the Seams
The twenty-nine stories and poems in the ninth print issue of Monkeybicycle seem so unlike each other, so fundamentally unrelated, that by the time I’d finished the last one I couldn’t believe the binding was strong enough to hold them all together. Go ahead and despise the cliché as much as you should, but when it comes to short fiction and poetry, the truth is Monkeybicycle9 has something for everyone.
Also true: you don’t have to wade too deep into the issue to come to the same conclusion.
Opening Monkeybicycle9 is Jack Garrett’s “Slim and Mrs. Burns,” a raucous, lascivious romp of a western, told in a language approaching biblical formality. In the tradition of Marquis de Sade, Garrett’s beautifully constructed sentences relay filthy descriptions of the anatomies and activities of the titular characters. The story catches Slim with his pants quite literally down as his herd of cattle begins to stampede. In the end, a surprising act of courage and competency on the part of Mrs. Burns – along with the author’s syntactic and tonal confidence – saves the story from what could easily have become its self-indulgent and pornographic doom.
Compare that with the first sentence of the following story, “Shapeway,” by Colleen Morrissey: “I think one of the stagehands is in love with my wife.” As far as I can tell, this is a perfect first sentence, made even better by its placement by the editors (what a refreshment the word “love” is after the preceding story’s relentless lust). Thankfully the story rises to the challenge set by its wonderful first line. There is plenty to appreciate in Monkeybicylce9, but “Shapeway” – unbelievably Ms. Morrissey’s fiction debut – demands to be singled out by this reviewer. At twenty-six pages, the story is the longest piece in the issue. It earns the space. Spanning fifty years and told from the perspective of both husband and wife, the story examines the complicated but deeply loyal relationship between Tom and Edie Shapeway, co-owners of a theatre house in early twentieth century Nebraska. I’d be surprised if Ms. Morrissey isn’t an avid reader of Alice Munro – she has the same compassion for her characters, imperfect but morally tuned, and a similar ability to write quiet sentences full of longing and heart, vacant of sentimentality. I’d be surprised, too, if I don’t see more stories soon from Colleen Morrissey.
Sour and sweet, farcical and earnest: the vacillation from one piece to the next continues throughout the issue. Even the few common denominators between the first two stories – realism, conventional temporality, lack of explicit humor – aren’t shared by some of the fiction appearing in later pages. Richard Wolkomir’s “When the Aliens Came” uses science fiction as a vehicle for one couple’s self-reflection. Jon Steinhagen’s absurdist story of two men named Trill and Squiller standing for eternity outside a building, “The Next Place,” could be called “experimental” if Beckett hadn’t already conducted the experiment decades ago. “Rafting Event” by Kelsi Sexton reads entirely like a scientific article on the evolution of an isolated family of lemurs until the very last paragraph – a fictional lassoing that might have made Kafka proud. Christopher Linforth’s “Door-to-Door,” in which a woman receives her weekly S&M fix, reads like Raymond Carver meets Mary Gaitskill meets David Lynch. Rory Douglas’s “The Best Birthday Party Ever,” a hilarious and touching account of a family’s futile attempt at normalcy, gets the biggest laughs in the issue. And Marshal Walker Lee’s “Cape Canaveral” explores the pain of losing a father using a distinct playfulness with time.
And that’s not even mentioning the poetry.
There is Zen simplicity in A. Anupama’s beautiful poem, “Vrksasana,” in which a the speaker sees a child as “A sapling in the supermarket line, / standing on one leg.” Compare that to the classical formality in J.Z. Houlihan’s “Ad Catullum,” in which – both in Latin and in English translation – he imagines a poetic response from the subject and muse of many of Catullus’s ancient poems, Lesbia. For poets interested in free verse, Derek Henderson’s use of repetition and alteration in “(The Stage is Divided into 37,421 Six Parts)” has an interesting if not entirely communicative effect, and J.P Dancing Bear’s poem in declarations, separated by colons, is told with the confidence of a Truth-teller: “you’ve fallen in love with / the shadow of your creation: just like so many other creators… it’s / okay, you say: the greatest work attracts the greatest critics.”
All of which is to say: writers of short fiction and poetry interested in submitting to Monkeybicycle need not worry about whether their work is right for the journal, or whether their credentials qualify them for publication. The only question you should ask yourself before submitting is this: Does my work have energy? Does my story or poem demand to be finished? Do my sentences or lines make the following sentence or line necessary – and vice-versa? (These, by the way, are good questions to be asking yourself before submitting to any journal). Energy is the clothesline carrying the eclectic wardrobe of Monkeybicycle9, and although some pieces are of arguably higher quality than others, very few seem forced or under-revised. Depending on how you look at it, the editors either took a major risk in presenting such a diverse collection of voices, or they played it safe by including at least one piece for every reader. I don’t really care. In either case, the result is the same: Monkeybicycle is the enemy of monotony, which makes it a friend of mine.
You should befriend it, too.