Normally, I like to review journals that I’ve never heard of. I love discovering new or less-acknowledged publications, mining foreign territory for literary gold. I try to stay as open as possible to new writers and new journals, and while what I find isn’t always great, it’s something unexpected every time.
With Monkeybicycle, I know what to expect.
Okay, so I don’t know exactly what to expect—this issue included featured comedian murders, dancing aliens, penis-shaped birthday cakes, and one particularly memorable colonoscopy—but that’s what I like best about Monkeybicycle. Coming into this review, I had high expectations—and this issue didn’t disappoint.
J.P. Dancing Bear’s “Indefinite Divisibility” is the journal’s only prose poem, and it’s my favorite of the poetry. In it, a speaker details his subject’s interaction with a creation he’s been building, which “sometimes it’s a machine that duplicates other things: other times it is the shadow of an insect.” The speaker’s tone is a cross between admiration and pity as he details the budding relationship of man and machine, the seemingly inappropriate juxtaposition that ends up feeling right after all:
. . . you’ve fallen in love with the shadow of your creation: just like so many other creators: you lovingly: dutifully adjust the footing: it sounds like the ocean is laughing at you: or maybe it’s the bowls of duplicated water: or the praying mantis appendage: of your machine: it’s okay, you say: the greatest work attracts the greatest critics
Rory Douglas’s “The Best Birthday Party Ever” is downright hilarious. It’s exactly what it sounds like: Alfy Wiggins’s 12th birthday consists of a penis-shaped birthday cake his mother bought at the local erotic bakery, his father dressed as Neil Armstrong, three friends who will undoubtedly ruin his reputation the next week at school, and an extremely awkward game of Star Wars-themed Twister.
But that’s not the good part; the finale of the party, when Alfy watches his home go up in flames with “three kids who would surely tell everyone at middle school about Alfy’s awesome birthday party where his house fucking burned down,” that’s when Alfy gets the gift he really wanted: “I watched the firefighters spraying out house as the flames moved to the second story; watched my dad, still in his Neil Armstrong costume, smiling smugly; and pictured the frost on the penis cake melting and evaporating in the heat, and I couldn’t think of anything else to wish for.”
Jared Hohl’s “My Different Looks” is a persona piece of sorts, a clever bit of fiction that has the speaker taking on three different “looks,” or characters. My favorite is his “Brock look,” a section detailing a character who is infuriating in his arrogance but extremely impressive as an example of his author’s skill in crafting voice:
This is all beefed up, hair dyed light blond and shaved into a crew cut. My jaw gets much bigger for this look. I’m, like, “Brock!” Big muscles, you know. Cut the sleeves off my T-shirt. Camaro. There are some ladies who love to be fucked by a man in crew cut and muscles. Yeah, I’m dumb. But dumb can fuck long. Dumb can make hair sprayed tits come out of anywhere . . . Support the death penalty. I am loyal to my brand of deodorant. Clap loudly. Loyal to my Chevy truck. Whoop-whoop. I’m Brock.
Finally, my favorite complete piece in this issue is Analisa Raya-Flores’s “Why You Don’t Know My Stories.” This is one of my favorite kinds of stories—the kind that starts in one place and ends in another. In this case, the story starts with the main character undergoing a colonoscopy and ends with him in bed with his wife. He is cheerful despite his visit to begin, but after reflecting on the choices he’s made in his life, the way his wife always ignores his ideas, he is in a completely different state, physically and emotionally.
After he reminisces about a time when a bad haircut had led him to angrily jump a subway turnstile, the story closes with the following soliloquy:
A week after the haircut I watched some drunk teenager jump the turnstile and get a three-hundred-dollar ticket. Three hundred dollars, for the thing I had done a week earlier. The rest of the ride home was spent formulating this theory: You make all major life choices before you’re born. It’s not really karma and it’s not quite Calvanism, but it’s something in between. You make a pre-life decision and you have to stick with it, live it out, and watch others live out the options you refused. The choice I was given: You can either get a terrible haircut and fight all day with you wife, or you can get a three-hundred-dollar ticket. That time I made the right choice…And this whole colon scare, well it’s just another decision playing out. It’s as if I got asked, “Do you want to die a painful cancer-y death or do you want to live a pretty empty life with a woman you love more than she loves you?”
I think I made a mistake.
It is a brilliant chunk of text that deserves to be shown in its near-entirety not just because it’s the perfect ending for the story, but also because it embodies the twisting, turning, unexpected—but at the same time, expected—story that makes Monkeybicycle such a great read, issue after issue.