The third issue of Fractured West, a petite magazine of short fiction, is a testament to the notions that brief doesnâ€™t mean empty, that a single scene can show you a life, and that a handful of words can be savored more than a truckload.
The editors, Kirsty Logan and Helen Sedgwick, donâ€™t set themes in advance, but the stories they received for this issue led to a theme: the pull of distance, â€œthe difficulties of getting close even when youâ€™re near enough to touch.â€ It begins with Annie Hartnettâ€™s Dissectionâ€”three plain, dark, and lovely sentences that sear familial drama down to its core. We move on to James Valvisâ€™s Big Alabama and the Church Candles. First of all, excellent title. This story concerns a matriarch, Big Alabama, who â€œgets the idea that people need prayers, so one August morning we walk to St. Paulâ€™s.â€ Clever and poignant, this story has a lot to say about religion, class, and the varied nature of love in two mini-pages.
The next story, Hairee Leeâ€™s Three Second Rule, was one of my favorites. It begins:
He is perfect, a doctor, from Harvard, the best medical school probably in the world and you manage to get your hooks into him like a fish, or not a fish, because actually he is quite a man, a dandy even, nothing wild or rough or instinctive about him at allâ€¦
And off we go with Leeâ€™s protagonist, an upwardly mobile woman shedding her past while being devoured by it. Shame is made visceral in this rhythmic massive sentence, and in a mini-page and a half we understand why she is there and what kind of man he is, and how easy it is for darkness to slip into our social interactions; how often the mythology of ourselves seems to matter more than ourselves.
Greg Dybecâ€™s The Bare Essentials is another stand-out. I loved the cyclical nature of it, the skilled use of second person, the light humor, and the ending, swollen with hope. My favorite passage, aside from the ending, has to be: â€œThe buttocks are a pleasant thing, arenâ€™t they? A pillow. A couple of cashews.â€
Phillip Englishâ€™s Jack is almost slipstream, an eerie dream of a story, beginning with the â€œpink of my babyâ€™s skin shines wet and vital against the brushed aluminum and blank walls.â€ We quickly learn that Jack isnâ€™t just a name. If you could shape the skull of your infant to determine what they would grow up to be, would you do it?
Jessica Durâ€™s Someone Cheated should be a go-to example for voice-driven short fiction. Brimming with self-deprecating humor and two-way description, I read it three times and intend to return to it. I often avoid child narrators because theyâ€™re difficult to authentically render and usually Iâ€™m left unsatisfied, but I believe Durâ€™s elementary girl.
Lam Phamâ€™s Avoidance Behavior introduces us to a young woman with anthropophobia, a pathological fear of people, in her cubby of aloneness in her new apartment, pretending an old man smoking outside her window isnâ€™t there. As someone with an anxiety disorder, my heart cracked reading her maintain a performance, self-negotiate, and cocoon herself in shopping for draperies. Phamâ€™s prose is a glass of water shivering from outside thunder. The policemen who knock on her narratorâ€™s door bring life and death like rain.
The solid writing throughout this issue impressed me; typically I run across at least a couple weak stories in a magazine. Naturally there were a few that werenâ€™t my cup of tea, but I could still find a line or two to appreciate in every single one. I have too many favorites to discuss them all, but I must mention a few more.
S. Magpieâ€™s God and the Bees and Peter Kispertâ€™s Olivia and the Bulletins and the Leaving Sadness are both single-page knockouts with fabulous titles and opening lines. God and the Bees begins with: You were raised by bees, and everybody knew it because when you sang we could all taste it behind our teeth.
Olivia and the Bulletins and the Leaving Sadness (which I could say over and over and still find delight) begins like this:
Oliviaâ€™s starfish hands grew to tremors like the hail down south. After he left, her world was oyster shells and Christmas wreaths, shoeboxes and sales calls. The anger was all over her, a drenching frequency that would not let her go.
I couldnâ€™t continue after reading this opening paragraph. I had to read it twice more before going on. I loved Olivia by the end, and wanted more, but not the kind of wanting more when thereâ€™s something lacking. I wanted more because it was so damn good.
Colin Winnetteâ€™s Family Vacation Island Love is a twisted sort of meet-cute and I loved it. Its ending reminded me of Anne Carsonâ€™s Eros the Bittersweet: The Greek word Eros denotes â€œwant,â€ â€œlack,â€ â€œdesire for that which is missing.â€ The lover wants what he does not have. It is by definition impossible for him to have what he wants if, as soon as it is had, it is no longer wanting.
Fractured West #3 contains many more gems from a diverse collection of writers on an international level. It is the perfect magazine for the busy and the young-at-heart. Itâ€™s more than worth the few pounds and small slips of time to enjoy some of the finest short fiction the independent lit world has to offer. I know I will return to many of these stories in the future, just for the pleasure and escape.
Dawn West (b. 1987) reads, writes, and eats falafel in Ohio.