The new Monkeybicycle is a beautiful book to hold and admire. Weighty, a neo-Rothko cover design, that new book smell. The inside is even better. A strong lineup of edgy stories and poems. Devoting its pages to mostly prose, the selections range from flash fiction to medium length and longer short stories. What other magazine throws together hard realism with the surreal, magical realism and science fiction? Editor Steven Seighman has put together something for everyone and it is refreshing after a glut of theme-issues has dominated literary journals for some years.
Michael Czyzniejewski’s “Valentine” explores a husband’s suspicions about his wife’s yearly gynecologist visit on Valentine’s Day and what it means for their future. The narrator finds more answers in his own past and at the end resignation becomes transfixed and the fragile couple tries to get past the illusions surrounding their love. Czyzniejewski upsets expectations by having the digression at the end bloom into the crux of the story. This is daring, Chekhovian move – it is the story in this issue I respect and honor the most.
In Shelia Ashdown’s “Sedimentary,” a young couple’s drive in Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains is shown. The female narrator, a budding geologist, is in awe seeing them for the first time and wants to taste their grit: “I can suddenly understand people who have pica, for their desire to ingest the earth, to feel sand between their teeth.” Over the course of the drive the landscape that haunts her points her in a new direction concerning her boyfriend. The sudden event at the end might seem hackneyed but the car trouble has grown out of the characters’ psychologies and Ashdown’s precise prose makes the life-defining moment as tense and real as a great action sequence
Humor abounds in Jason Jordan’s “Shuttlecock.” A young man’s penis wants to be an astronaut. The penis’ name is Stretch. Jordan’s deadpan approach shows even a penis can have a big heart. In Matt Bell’s “The Girls of Channel 2112,” a pair of Siamese twin girls run an internet sex room. One of the girls has an admirer and she must convince her prudish sister to let this man into their bedroom. Bell chooses pathos over humor and the aching and longing of the narrator brings the reader into the impossible position of a life confined. Drew Jackson’s “After Spaulding” concerns the narrator’s visit to an old college friend’s island compound full of strange half-human/half-animal creatures. This story gets overlong while detailing the island but memorable creatures are beautifully etched. Each of these tales has enough of a patina of reality to be unsettling and show us a future that is perhaps not so far off. Freaks and those hallowed parts of the body are given a voice to express ecstasy and loneliness and everything in between.
The issue hums along between realism and the surreal and the effect is that of a well-balanced meal. Also included is Joe Sullivan’s memoir of the sometimes weighty, sometimes weightless days after college in the suburbs of Boston. Monkeybicycle is one of the more daring journals and that they are now an imprint of the wonderful Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Dzanc Books only cements their place in the literary world.