Long Grey Beard and Glittering Eye at The Fiction Desk
Long Grey Beard and Glittering Eye at Goodreads
Overall rating: 7/10
My hiatus on reading periodicals/fiction journals came to a halt over the holidays when I picked up a then unread issue of one of my favourite anthology publications, The Fiction Desk. Their ninth publication proved to be yet another solid read; one of their stronger issues, in my opinion. It contains nine short stories encompassing The Fiction Desk's usual variety of the serious, the fantastic, the comic and the near tragic. I encourage you to support the publication by taking out a subscription (via their website, linked above).
The best story award, as voted by its contributors, went to the story I too would have voted for, Adam Blampied's "The Cobble Boys." Other notables (or more notable notables since there was not a single weak story in the issue) are Mark Newman's "Before There Were Houses, This Was All Fields," and Louis Rakovich's "Jonathan."
Whole Wide World by Die Booth 6/10
A young man searches retro punk bars for his dad. A jagged first half evens out to a strong latter half. Less dramatic than one might expect but it works.
I Don't Blink by Jacki Donnellan 6/10
In a world where people are locked into social media via their W'Eye Glasses, a mostly unconnected man struggles after having lost his lover to the technology. My favourite aspect of this one is the clever naming of the tools, like the W'Eye to W'Eye, W'Eye-fi and Wiki Tell-Me-W'Eye Glasses, not to mention the W'Eye Spy app. The only woman in this anthology, Donnellan manages to amuse while creating this extension of our own reality. The boy loses girl to W'Eye Glasses backdrop is a great method of delivery for this satiric piece. Moreover, being not too well connected through social media myself, I appreciate the sentiment.
Just the Stars to Look Up To by S.R. Mastrantone 6/10
A young man, dissatisfied with living in small town Marlstone, looks for an escape through vicarious means. Yet at every turn he faces small minded disappointment. Mastrantone's previous appearances in The Fiction Desk are "Something Unfinished" (Because of What Happened) and, my favourite, "Just Kids" (Crying Just Like Anybody).
Mental Pictures by Matthew Licht 6/10
A second story of parental issues. A recently separated man is on a train heading to his home town and estranged mother, when he is left in charge of a slightly autistic boy on his way, supposedly, to meet his father. A repeat contributor to The Fiction Desk, this is so far my preferred story by Licht. Though part of a larger work according to the story notes, the lack of closure and unanswered questions add much to the story, as it is not the origin or eventual fate of the boy that matters, but the protagonist's own development as a result of the attachment, and his relationship to others as a result of the boy's own relationships. Having said this, however, I would certainly be interested in reading the longer project.
Too bad about that near rhyming typo on page 59: "Sometimes I gave my own name, just to hear there was no party listed, therefore I didn't existed."
Licht's stories have appeared in previous volumes of TFD: "Dave Tough's Luck" (Various Authors), "Washout (New Ghost Stories), Across the Kinderhook (Crying Just Like Anybody) and "The Bear that Got Me" (New Ghost Stories II).
A Series of Circles by Tim Dunbar 6/10
A mid-life crisis is experienced through music and an obsession with David Bowie. When a man is left alone after his wife and children head off for a family visit, he descends into an obsessive week of embodying the artist after an attractive young woman comments on their physical resemblance and Bowie's own good looks. The recipient of second place in the Newcomer Prize, "A Series of Circles" is an energetic and enjoyable read, and works both as a story and an homage to a truly unique artist. I only hope Mr. Bowie had the chance to come across it.
The Cobble Boys by Adam Blampied 7/10
A folk ghost tale helps to illustrate the dangers of familial tensions amid political and religious strife in Northern Ireland. A girl from a passive family damaged by the conflict seeks revenge on the group of brothers for beating on her own younger brother. A strong work fueled by genuine emotion, and a physical fight that is well delineated--not an easy task. One of two of my favourites from the anthology, the other being the one that follows it.
Before They Were Houses, This Was All Fields by Mark Newman 7/10
Certainly the best titled story in the anthology, it recounts a boy's youth at a developing residential neighbourhood and how he and the small, growing community are affected by the case of a missing girl. The violence in this one is more implied but nonetheless brutal.
As mentioned above, this one received first place in The Fiction Desk's Newcomer Prize, though I'd be hard-pressed to select from the two as both are well written, empathetic tales of loss.
Sky Burial by Richard Smyth 5/10
In a near future England wild animals are roaming in closer proximity to humans as part of a "rewilding" process. In the meantime civil war has broken out, and as he lies injured and threatened by the animals he helped to bring to the country, a man reflects on the major errors he has made.
Smyth has appeared in TFD with "Chalklands" (New Ghost Stories) and "Crying Just Like Anybody" (Crying Just Like Anybody).
Jonathan by Louis Rakovich 7/10
A retired man takes a short fishing trip, and at the lake encounters the spirit of an old friend. Amid the semi-isolation of the lake, he is forced to deal with some long repressed guilt. Yet another fine ghost story from the pages of The Fiction Desk.