There is so much fiction to admire in issue No. 5 of Subtropics that I hardly know where to begin.
So, let me start with “Stump” by my friend Roy Kesey. The story is about Donny, a loser who screws up yet again, and sets out in his bumbling way to do the right thing, for the first time in his life. But his reputation catches up with him and so he’s at loose ends. Until his friend Mitch is called upon to rescue a horse in a stump. It’s a little hard to picture, except this is redwood country and the stumps are big. Reluctantly, Mitch takes Donny along with him and of course there are complications. Great setting, great dialogue, great tension. This is a wonderful story.
Next is “No More Happy Birthdays” by Suzanne Halmi, and the reader might begin to sense a theme here. This time the loser is Ted who has the hots for Laurel and launches a scheme to get her to have sex with him. He hooks up with some other kids who can supply drugs, but getting the drug apparently involves a walk through the cemetery at night. And then there are complications. This one ended a little too abruptly, I thought, but it was still a fun read, and Ted is a well-rendered character, and engaging even if you don’t want to like him.
Owen King’s “Nothing is in Bad Taste” was terrific, too. Cheryl is an ER nurse, Leonard works in advertising, and she’s ready to get out of the city and start a family. He’s not. Which leads to complications that I’m not sure the story really prepares the reader for, which is not to say that they weren’t believable. The great thing about the story is the private joke that Cheryl and Leonard have that starts out being in bad taste, but gets used to the point that its meaning is lost. Another fine story.
The next two stories, Ben Stroud’s “Borden’s Meat Biscuit” and Chris Bachelder’s “Gatsby’s Hydroplane,” seem out of place here. The first violates the magazine’s no-first-person rule, although perhaps that’s because its structure and voice are otherwise so unusual. The second is very short and turns on an odd observation about Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. I’m not sure how I feel about these stories. John Brandon’s “The Coming Summer” appears to get things back on track, but then not much happens. This one is about Marky, a weird twelve-year-old who is already nostalgic for his youth. He rides around on a yellow scooter and . . . talks to other weird people.
Marshall N. Klimasewiski’s “Aeronauts” is in an innovative structure: part epistolary, part dramatization in which August Strindberg appears, it may take more attention than I’m willing to give it.
Finally, on the back cover of the magazine, is Paul Lisicky’s “The Didache.” It’s a beautiful narrative by a son about what he has learned from his mother.
There is also fine poetry here, and one non-fiction piece, but I’ll leave that for someone else to dissect. It's a great issue.