Archive for October, 2010

A Review of “We know what we are” by Mary Hamilton

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Spencer Dew

This beautifully produced chapbook–the winner of Rose Metal Press’s fourth annual short story chapbook contest, judged and with an introduction by Dinty W. Moore–features an unsettling letterpress printed ribcage on the cover and deals out short pieces driven by free-wheeling first person voices and a surrealist logic anchored solidly in the concrete, such that, for instance, we have

I am a long coat, a black duster, the kind that hangs off your shoulders and brushes your palm. The kind that nicks the backs of your knees and parts open front and back to allow for movement. The kind of coat that makes you taller, kinder, ghost-like. I don’t know,


It’s one of those things like how a riddle works its way into the notches in your sinus cavity and lingers and infects and wakes you at night and you try every possible path to resolution, and still you can’t figure the answer. And still you are awake at four a.m.

What’s hypnotic about such passages owes much to the coupling of real-world particularity–in object, in description, in language, and in experience–to something vast and mysterious, some message relayed, as in another story in this collection, via coded dots and lines. We have a coat, a way of talking about the cut and hang of said coat, we have “sinus cavity”  and infection, we have this insomniacal pondering, and yet all of these pieces are like glass shards glued down onto a mosaic, and the pleasure of We know what we are is that this mosaic is never visible as a whole. We see an arch, patches of color, a pickup truck loaded into a pickup truck, but something–like the visions of a fever dream–remains always just out of reach.

Consider Bull Shannon, for instance, or Theodore Huxtable. Both are invoked repeatedly in this collection, and in some sense surely hover above it as guiding spirits. The text is prefaced with the acknowledgement that without “Malcolm-Jamal Warner and the creators and writers of The Cosby Show…I would be lost.” Yet a story like “Me and Theodore climbed to the top of the water tower because we were scared of the tremors beneath the dirt,” beginning “There is nothing wrong with lanterns under your skin” has little to do with The Cosby Show per se. Rather, the story titles featuring these names function more as joke intros or oblique glosses on the brief narratives that follow, reflecting, as well, the speed with which one image, in Hamilton’s work, move on to the next. A songbird is replaced by a fruit bat, Malcolm-Jamal Warner in Eskimo kit is transmogrified into a plastic bag full of silver buttons.

This alchemy is not unconnected to the oral, performative nature of Hamilton’s work.  She, with Lindsay Hunter (whose Daddy’s was reviewed in this month’s decomP) co-founded the Chicago reading series Quickies!, focused, as it is, on polished and entrancing live presentation of literature. These quick pieces have the ring, frequently, of texts intended to be read aloud, where, unmoored from the permanence of the page, their shifts, non sequiturs, and free associations play out to different effect, part of the small talk preamble and intermittent gaze of the stage magician pulling off something casually spectacular with a deck of cards. Or an audience volunteer and a handsaw.

“Many rips make one hole insignificant,” says the narrative of one wisp of a story, at once speaking to and exemplifying Hamilton’s sleight of hand. Precision in the display of randomness, this is skill behind We know what we are. From the plainly stated–“There is a certain faith in the body’s ability to heal. In the way a broken bone set correctly will find its way back together.”–to the fantastical–“I said take up your weapons and make your way into the belly of night. Slash apart her mud veil.” Imagine a stage magician who, amidst assorted nonchalant pyrotechnics and the seemingly spontaneous hat-based production of numerous rabbits and fruit bats, also makes appear on stage, in glimmering mist, the motley billing of a night court session while shimmying around in imitation of the freestyle dance of The Cosby Show’s opening credits–this is the sort of book that begs you to flip back to the front page of a short story just finished and riddle your way through it again. “Tremors?” you’ll say, “Like, Tremors?”

Official Mary Hamilton Web Site
Official Rose Metal Press Web Site

A Review of “The 2010 Jersey Devil Press Anthology” by Eirik Gumeny, Editor

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Spencer Dew

“My teacher told the class that if we feel strongly about our stories that we should submit them to a publication. I’m submitting this one to Jersey Devil Press. I read that one of its main criteria for accepted submission is quality,” reads one of the pieces in this collection of stories, many of which first ran on the Jersey Devil Web site. The quality here is less anything like artistic quality and more like quality of place, the quality of a Taco Bell franchise, for instance, at once forgettable and rich with details that seem to demand an ironic gaze. This is a quality shared by narrators for disparate stories, a longing for the coolness of Bruce Lee movies and untoasted Pop-Tarts, or the hope “that the McRib sandwich would taste as good as it looked on the commercials…that the 11 herbs and spices represented a genuine mystery; that the individual locations were part of something larger than themselves, and that chains had discernable personalities.”

It is a hope unfulfilled, and most of the stories here are “haunted by nothing,” to quote another line. They feel, amidst the bluster of brand names and detritus of strip mall culture, like “When the Apocalyptic Armageddon of Y2K finally arrived, and not a damn thing happened.” One predominant sense is that we’re being presented, here, with exercise pieces, skits penned out at the spur of the moment, unplanned, winking a little too loudly at the porn industry or junk food. There’s a unpleasantly unfunny jokey-ness. And, maybe worse, an unsettling feeling of reading something unready, unfinished.

A notable and necessary exception is Kate Delany’s brief and tonic “Jersey Fresh,” a story which stabs at some of the problems plaguing all the other pages. “You just love how authentic and unpretentious everything is:  the hyper-laminated menus, the dump wait-staff, the enormous windows with a view of the highway on one side, of a brick wall on the other.” A story about a native returning to Jersey from California–obsessing, over scrapple and eggs, with veganism, raw diets–who can’t get enough of how everything is just “so Jersey” back in the Garden State. “For several minutes, you marvel over the chocolate chip muffin on the menu which no one, you insist, would ever eat on the West Coast and that’s what’s so great about being back here! No one gives a shit!” There’s a wisdom to Delany’s story, craftsmanship in her construction, a rage and a sympathy, real characters and real images. “Jersey Fresh” is a page and a half of real quality; it’s a pity the rest of the volume can’t measure up.

Official Jersey Devil Press Web Site

A Review of “dislocate No. 6: The Contaminated Issue” by Colleen Coyne, Editor-in-Chief

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Jessica Maybury

Reading the new issue of dislocate is not unlike diving into the sea. You stand at the edge, momentarily put off, unwilling to dive…and then you jump in, and it’s wonderful.

What was making me unwilling to read was that when I was flipping through the issue, much of the writing seemed to be of that technical/academic/nonsense style that always seems to just go right over my head. I find it off-putting, pretentious and, frankly, boring. The book lay on my coffee table for a few days, emanating malevolent vibes.

When I sat down for a proper reading, it was with a depressed distaste. This was quickly overturned by reading the editor’s note, wherein there is a description of what ‘contaminated’ means to them: “it is a blending that produces something new.” In this multicultural, increasingly connected world, this is something that is both important and needed.

Technical etc., entries aside, there are astonishing stories, poetry and artwork collected in this issue. The photographic work, taken by Justine Beth Gartner, is displayed in glossy coloured plates and reveals a tight, claustrophobic world of edges and corners, of abandoned places.

The collection speaks up for the contemporary story, breaking boundaries in Modernist fashion, redefining the benchmark for what is ‘acceptable’ or ‘good’ fiction–if any aesthetic viewpoint can be held as relevant nowadays–in ways that made me panic. I doubt that anything I could have written would have been included in this. It is a wake-up call for writers everywhere.

dislocate No. 6 features writers such as Jenny Boully, Greg Bachar, and Curtis Dawkins. The surreal and often complicatedly pictorial metaphors are double-edged and unforgiving; the reader finds that they stay with them long after the volume has been set away.

I have to say that I liked Lindsey Drager’s “Photographs I Did Not Take” the most. Her style is minimalist, pared back and rife with striking images: “If zero is empty, a gaping defined by frame, then so is your mouth,” and “You syndrome of affection, breaking my smiles clean open, smiles cracking over my face,” are but two examples.

More quotes abound, from Jenny Boully: “I have seen the imprint of your little teeth all about the dawn,” from Greg Bachar: “…wasp is a difficult dish to enjoy,” and from Lucas Church:

The weight of something gives a sort of authority, a rifle feels heavy and that’s part of the power, a wrench, a crowbar, a shovel, they’re like badges.

dislocate No. 6 is not easy reading. I was left feeling a little overwhelmed by it, and slightly humbled. Don’t be put off by the pretention of some of the pieces–here there is much that is good.

Official dislocate Web Site

Our Pushcart Prize Nominations

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Congratulations to our Pushcart Prize nominees!

Tres Crow – “The Devil’s Courtyard”
Stacia M. Fleegal – “Post-Apocalyptic”
Kathleen Heideman – “Overlooked Heroine, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus”
Carrie Lorig – “Bone Woman”
Timothy Raymond – “Renegades”
Amber Sparks – “When Other People’s Lives Fall into Your Lap”

A Review of “Diary of a Gentleman Diabolist” by Robin Spriggs

Friday, October 8th, 2010

Spencer Dew

Some schools of occultists are inordinately fond of merit badges, hierarchic ranking, fancy dress, special handshakes, Excel spreadsheets brimming with esoteric codswallop, and the like. In certain lodges, club houses, and initiatory chambers, these folks are hailed, by their peers and underlings, as magus maximus, etc., etc., but in the wider world they are usually identified as bores, gas giants with pretensions to some new, much speedier, mathematics. Beware the man who soliloquizes on “infinite delight.” He has a set of manikins in the basement, which is fine for his own private hours, but shouldn’t be confused with what he’s preaching about nor passed around, in sticky pieces, to houseguests.

This little collection of what are inexplicably self-identified as “prose poems” suffers from something of this larger problem of blabbing on about the occult and thus stripping away from it its very useful occultation–useful in the sense of actually inspiring a sense of power, mystery, creepiness, or allure. What we have instead, here, are bits like: “Mighty Moloch, book ablaze, to you do I sacrifice the word-born babes of my fevered brain, hoping to glean from their silent wails the golden secrets of the Infinite Self.” Good luck with that. There’s some saying somewhere about wisdom and its relation to keeping ones mouth shut from time to time, but you won’t hear that alluded to in Diary of a Gentleman Diabolist. You will, however, hear plenty else, with accompanying sigils, or squiggles, an alphabet of energies, as best I can figure it, that drains a little more ink in the printing process but otherwise adds nothing to the book. “All of his bad Latin was entirely intentional,” it is said, of a certain character, a certain type. “Sometimes he even confused it (both purposely and purposefully) with Italian, Spanish, and French, having learned long ago the potent effect of such pseudoscholarly inscriptions on minds of a particular stripe.” This “particular stripe” of mind might find Diary of a Gentleman Diabolist worthy of a half hour or so. Others most likely will not.

There are some genuine spooky bits (any stuffed toy monkey is a terrifying stuffed toy monkey) and some watery reproduction Lovecraft and some fan fiction for the new religious revival of the old religions–“The hatchling Prince, his ways Loki-wild, his words Odin-wise,” etc.–grimoires get eaten, things happen to trees involving semen, and there is an eye, deliciously, in a candy jar, “pressed hard against the glass by a crush of gobstopping spheres made all the more horrific by the fact that they were sweet.” But the book is in desperate need of an editorial hand. Must we really endure such weary declarations as that hell is a woman “every warlock worth his wand” wants to stick his stave into or that “She stood like a phantom before me, like a dream of a ghost in the mist, but her smile was the smile of a sunrise, and it reached to the core of my soul, the core of my Stygian soul”? Again, a “particular stripe” of mind will surely dig this, and feel some excitement, too, over the fact that “The wrath of the nigromancer is like a hairtrigger rifle of unlimited range in the hands of a fickle sniper,” but it is a rather limited “particular stripe” to feel anything from lines like “I am…the thing under your bed, the hate in your heart….” No spell is cast by such deflated clichés. That scent isn’t brimstone, it’s just something stale.

Official Anomalous Books Web Site

Our Best of the Web 2011 Nominations

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

We’re glad to announce our Best of the Web 2011 nominations, and they are as follows:

Tres Crow – “The Devil’s Courtyard”
John Jodzio – “Guns and Gold”
Pui Ying Wong – “An Emigrant’s Winter”

Best of luck in the selection process!