Sunday, August 10, 2008

LitMag Wave: Fourteen Hills #14.2

Writers hear all the time that they should read a magazine before submitting work to it, and most of us recognize that this is a good idea in theory, but often hard in practice. Where I live, very few literary journals are available in the bookstore and next to none in the library, so I subscribe to very many magazines so I can get a sense of what they like. (Of course you can often read samples online, or you might see prize-winners anthologized somewhere, or the magazine’s editors may even make a pronouncement of their aesthetic that offers clues about what they like; there’s no substitute for reading an issue or two or three, though.)

And if you read an issue of Fourteen Hills, you’ll discover that the editors like quirky stories. I mean that in a good way. Most of the stories in the current issue are oddballs in form, tone or subject matter.

“An Inquiry into the Future” by Mira Pasikov is a good example. The subject matter is old hat—a couple is breaking up—so the telling better be fresh, and it is. The story is fragmented and is also jumbled in time. We get a piece of the narrator’s arrival at the airport, then the cab ride home, then a few more pieces before we jump back to the flight, then a moment before the flight, and also a visit to a tarot card reader. The author is asking a lot of the reader, here, and it’s a stimulating challenge.

In Laura Schadler’s “What’s On Fire,” the narrator undergoes eye-replacement surgery. Oh. Okay, that’s not possible, but never mind. It makes sense in the story. What follows is a more-or-less realistic telling of the aftermath.

“All the Small Objects” by Melinda M. Moustakis is mostly realistic (but maybe its realism is trumped by its San Francisco setting, given that the magazine is the San Francisco State University Review), and the subject matter is partly familiar—adultery. And yet the job of the central character, a bridge painter, is so unusual, and the imagery of falling objects, including bodies, is so compelling, that the result is fresh. Even this, though, is told in many fragments, with only one section that runs longer than a page.

I enjoyed “Love in Eviction City” by Stephanie Dickinson, and recognized the characters and setting from Dickinson’s story “Love City” in a recent issue of Short Story magazine. Here, Sunrise Williams and her boyfriend Jamer are looking at a house to rent with Desiree, their infant, except the baby is one they found in the aftermath of Katrina. But the house is not for them—they are too young and too poor—and they wind up back in the motel that is the setting for the other story. I gather that this is a collection of post-Katrina stories and I would predict that we’ll hear a lot more from Dickinson.

“Earth Diary” by Will Comerford is the record of an alien’s mission on the planet. It’s more than that, of course. It’s also a love story. I think.

“Mad Meg” by Sam J. Miller begins promisingly: a mother discovers her son’s gay porn video and watches it. The son—in a move that the mother recognizes as over-compensation—enlists in the Marines. Disagreement over this action is just one more crack in the marriage of the boy’s parents, and the mother plots to stop the enlistment by outing her son. All of which is happening against a backdrop of the woman’s interest in art, including Bruegel’s painting, “Mad Meg,” which gives the story an added dimension. I liked this one quite a bit, as far as it went; it seemed to just stop, rather than really end. In this story the telling is straightforward; it’s the subject matter that’s fresh.

And speaking of the military, there is also “Clean” by O. Aaron Lindsey, about a soldier newly home from Iraq who is taking a long, hot shower to wash the desert away. The story is a monologue, all internal, with great fragmented thoughts jumping into each other.

And there are a few more stories that also show that the magazine seems to prefer the non-traditional. Or “innovative,” to use their word. It’s hard to get more specific than that, because this is a wide variety, which is why I started with the “quirky.”


Anonymous said...

I love Dickinson's writing. Her story collection, Road of Five Churches, is terrific. I'll have to get this issue.


Kelly said...

It's nice to get a review from someone who understands the Fourteen Hills vision. I was the fiction editor for that issue, and I spent hours upon hours choosing these stories. I picked them on their ability to take risks and challenge the reader. And yes, quirky might be a good way to describe it! Thanks for the great review!
~Kelly Machleit