The Newsletter of
THE SILVER WEBreviewed by Kiersten Stevenson
Copyright © 1995, Kiersten Stevenson
The Silver Web #11, spr/sum '94, $4.95. 64 pages, 81/2
x 11, b/w cover and interior illos. Ed. Ann Kennedy, BUZZCITY PRESS,
P.O. Box 38190, Tallahassee, Florida 32315.
With a cover that might be called Bela Lugosi meets Ozymandias, the eleventh issue of The Silver Web: A Magazine of the Surreal is dressed to entice. Fortunately, although looks aren't everything, in this case appearance turns out to be a good barometer for what lies within: gothic horror themes mixed with melancholy romanticism--all cemented in first-rate writing. The magazine's three main sections: features, fiction, and poetry combine as a vehicle through which to explore some of the less-frequented corners of the human psyche. From magical beliefs to subconscious perversions and obsessions, the stories in The Silver Web take the reader into the darkest recesses of the imagination in ways that are creative and entertaining.
Although there are many good stories in this issue (and a couple that fall just shy), there is one outstanding tale sandwiched right in the middle. "Last Rites and Resurrections," by Martin Simpson, is an exercise in black humor that also manages to be very touching. The unnamed narrator in this yarn is aided by a number of dead animals in facing the death of his son. Sound different? This story is one of the most creative pieces of magic realism I have encountered. It includes witty soundbites from road-kill who possess thought-provoking insights regarding the anatomy of grief, such as the following:
"..the armadillo has a healthy, good-humored sense of its position in the world. 'Look at me,' the first one I found said. 'I'm basically a dinosaur, unchanged for millions of years. I should be sharing the road with a 1993 Saturn? That car has a micro-computer that controls its electrical system; I've got scales for God's sake. It's not easy being an anachronism.'"As the story progresses, we see the narrator slowly managing to bury his grief along with the mangled carcasses. The gentle absurdity of the tone combines nicely with the likeable narrator and the sensitive subject matter. After reading this off-beat allegory--Simpson's first published short story--one can only look forward to his future forays into the genre.
Sean Brendan-Brown provides one of the more humorous stories in the pack with "Nowhere When it Burns." Randy Cole, an ex-driver who has been discharged recently from the Navy, is the anti-hero in this irreverent tale. Throughout a series of scenes that are more like verbal snapshots than narrative descriptions, the pyrophilic Randy travels from one seedy locale to another. These wanderings become a metaphor for Randy's psychological journey through mysterious ruminations, as he vacillates between reality and insanity. During the course of this trek, Randy encounters a number of deliciously dysfunctional characters, such as the crotchety storage-shed operator and her bigoted, beer-swilling son. However, the plot and characters actually take a backseat to Brendan-Brown's lingual dexterity, as evinced in the following description:
"He...lit another cigarette with the pale blue flame from his Bic and coughed the harsh, phlegm-rich cough of a young chain-smoker with a head-start on lung cancer."
This story is worth the read for the descriptions alone.
One of the more psychologically complex stories is the "The Casual Conversation Of Angels" by Nathan Ballingrud. This provocative story strips away the implicit assumptions, such as purity and goodness, that are typically associated with angels. Though not exactly supernatural, this is a mystical story of sorts. Ballingrud delves into the psyche of the narrator, Jerry, who though physically alive, is spiritually dead. It is 1945 and Jerry is just back from a tour of duty in Poland; yet he has not left it behind. Having witnessed the profound atrocities of Auschwitz, he now possesses a keen appreciation for human frailties and shortcomings. As Jerry returns to a world that seems twice-removed from reality by virtue of its ignorance, he seems frozen in a state of perpetual conflict. As a result, he is no longer able to relate to his fiancée or his friends. Ultimately, he is compelled to seek out the company of fellow "angels"--GIs who, like himself, are no longer fit for a universe that is obliviously steeped in the purity of innocence. Using an interesting spiritual inversion, Ballingrud suggests that he who has been baptized in the unspeakable horrors of mankind must surrender his own physical humanity, only to experience rebirth as a sort of apathetic anti-angel.
Reminiscent of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Saint of St. Andrew," by Charles L. Roberts, is a stark confession that reads like a verbal vivisection. The narrator, an inmate of St. Andrew's Asylum, paradoxically comes off sounding "hypersane." The story progresses through internal monologue. As the narrator methodically evaluates various breakout strategies, he makes it clear that the institution in which he is imprisoned is as much a psychological bastille as it is a physical one. Though the tone is melancholy and the subject-matter grave, Roberts manages to inject a sense of idealism into this eerie tale, causing it to come off sounding like a celebration of imagination and the human spirit.
The story that gets the prize for being the most off-the-wall is "The Bermuda Triangle Suit," by Joe Murphy. How's this for an opening:
"Yellows scream. The scent/sight of the apartment wallpaper pervades nose and eyes, twisting up through Dis' sinuses, harmonizing with burnt feathers and the smell of new cars."
This tale is the verbal equivalent to a Jackson Pollock painting. All the literary staples--plot, characterization, theme--become secondary to the experimental style. Essentially, Murphy issues a linguistic challenge, requiring the reader to abandon standard ideas of narration and regard the story as a sort of linguistic puzzle. Although this speculative story (which reads more like stream-of-consciousness poetry than prose fiction) is off-beat and slightly sexual, the style tends to get in the way of the narrative, making it difficult to move past the language into the ideas: There's this artist, see, and a couple of tailors, and a suit...Oh, and part of the story is told in flashback. That's about all I can tell you about the characters and plot. To be sure, this story lends itself to highly subjective interpretations. Though I found it somewhat distracting not to be able to position myself in the text, this did not detract from my enjoyment of the radical style. Still, there may be many for whom this is a deal-breaker.
Of the two mediocre tales, the better is Gay Pardington Terry's "Congregation Sephiroth." Here, a transient becomes the psychologicaldoppelganger for a shut-in. As the house-bound narrator watches the world unfold from her window, her contemplations become metaphors for her philosophy of life. By collapsing the distinctions of individuality, Terry does strike an intriguing theme that has to do with reincarnation and a sort of "collective theory of souls." Though what Terry is doing is not uninteresting, the overall effect seems somehow stunted and, as a result, somewhat inconsequential. Although there is nothing intrinsically wrong with this tale, it recedes in comparison to many of the others.
The last story of the collection, "26-52-78-104," by Cooper Darnell, is the most conventional. 26 year old Dmitry Koncha, a coward who is afraid of being implicated in anything, especially life; is obsessed with the doubling of his age: 26-52-78-104. A translator of Russian novels, Koncha is consumed with thoughts of his inexorable march toward death. Darnell's tone imitates the hollow, soulless tone of "Crime and Punishment," which--surprise, surprise!--is the novel that Koncha and his partner are in the process of translating. From the Mafia to a motif of despair, there's a little of everything here, including devices that blend nicely: a character who is a psychological foil for Raskolnikov, a murder-mystery plot, a theme of existential angst. Yet somehow the story cannot escape the fate of being a literary regurgitation. Although adequate, "26-52-78-104" is the least exciting story in the collection.
The weakest component of the magazine is the poetry. Although the subjects vary, the styles seem fairly generic. On the other end of the spectrum, one of the best things in the issue is the review section. Crisply articulate and witty, the reviews are equal parts entertainment and information, and seem as well-written as any of the stories.
SW#11 is rounded out by a fascinating interview with avant-garde photographic illustrator H. E. Fassl, many beautiful and haunting illustrations, a section of subscribers' letters, and a cartoon or two. For a journal that advertises itself as "a magazine of the surreal," the quality isvery real. To judge by #11, this journal is as generous to the imagination as it is to the eye.
|The Council for the Literature of the Fantastic is based at the Department of English of the University of Rhode Island. We thank the University and the Department for their support.|
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