Reviews, Vol. 3.3, Sept. 2009
Monkeybicycle Books, Spring/Summer 2009
Paperback, 206 pp., $12
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Monkeybicycle 6, the journal from the Dzanc Books Monkeybicycle imprint, includes a diverse array of voices such as Matt Bell, Kim Chinquee, Drew Jackson, Michael Czyzniejewski, Laura van den Berg, Jason Jordan, Brandi Wells, and others. The driving force of the issue is a wry sensibility and an evocative, observant quality. [Note: No spoilers contained here.]
The collection opens with Martha Clarkson’s “Gum Gutter,” an unexpectedly witty story whose narrator is all the more funny for her laid back composure and the fact that the story, at its minimum, is not about much more than her getting a “ticket” from a bike cop because she spits her gum into the gutter on a Thanksgiving day stroll. Clarkson’s story sets the tone for the rest of the issue, which does not disappoint in its use of humor, insight, and interesting characters.
The journal is fairly loaded with notable stories, one stand-out piece being Drew Jackson’s brilliant “After Spaulding.” Without giving too much away, in pacing, character development, and imagination, the piece sings. The inventive quality of the story, while wild in concept, is made believable by the outstanding quality of Jackson’s writing, which takes the story beyond being merely compelling or strong. Jay Wexler’s “The Advisor” is pure entertainment from start to finish, and has a visual quality that renders it film-worthy. Other stories that win points for, again, entertainment and imaginative quality, are Corey Mesler’s “From the Desk of Jojo Self” and Ryan Boudinot’s chilling story, “The Mine,” on which I could continue for pages regarding its allegorical qualities. Sarah Salway’s “Dictionary of Death Dreams: an extract” is the story I wish I wrote, and Laura van den Berg’s “Photography” is both brief and poignant, accomplishing much in few pages. Jason Jordan’s “Shuttle Cock” is riotously hilarious; Jordan writes a story that not many could pull off well, yet he manages brilliantly.
Matt Bell’s story, “The Girls of Channel 2112” is unexpected on several levels: there is the subject matter (conjoined twins share a single body; one is a graduate student while the other earns their living working in porn) and the matter of characterization. The character development is outstanding, in the sense that, while the plot and subject might usually be considered ridiculous in the hands of a less-skilled writer, Bell handles it brilliantly. The story has the ring of both honesty and humor, and the girls’ complete lack of hang-ups about their condition translate to a confidence that makes them lovable as characters. Despite the raunchy subject matter, the story evinces beauty. Brandi Wells’ story, “The Head,” a tale about a girl finding a talking, severed head in her toilet is similar to Bell’s story for its quirky, creative sensibility, a layer added atop a keen sense of characterization that speaks to the issue as a whole.
Even a story like “A Fair to Remember,” by Tyler Stoddard Smith, which is avant-garde ridiculous, is also wonderfully hilarious, imaginative, and well worth the ride. Smith’s tale is taken to another level by the keenly informed way it pokes fun at history:
[Joe] signed autographs, hob-knobbed with celebrities and even managed a private meeting with Thomas Edison. The two spoke candidly, discussing the “infinite possibilities” within the field of dumplings, the poor back-lighting of the Boer War, and their mutual disdain for Nikolai Tesla, who once, having stopped in at Joe’s restaurant on a mission trip through China, left a paltry tip after shocking a waitress with 10,000 volts of alternating current for bringing him fried rice instead of steamed.
Other stories, like “Sedimentary” by Sheila Ashdown, are insightful and bear multiple readings. The issue contains a light sampling of poetry as well, but the fiction steals the Monkeybicycle 6 show.
Read the issue; you won’t be disappointed.