The cover explains the selections within very well: things are going to get weird. The publication is filled with more questions than answers; each story leaves you in a new locale, and while rereading may make things more understandable, true clarity is never given. The biggest mistake one can make entering these works is assuming that a solution, a character, or a situation will be made explicit. Often one is simply forced to fight imagination with imagination.
That would be fine if most of the bare ideas the authors gave wouldn’t lead to such dark areas. “The Lonesome Deaths of Bud and Sandy” by Dennis Cooper is a page long, with two small vignettes of what can only be described as an odd, accepted homicide of a father’s two children. Anna DeForest’s “The Lemon Wife” is a series of nine paragraphs, told in second person point of view, and made up almost entirely of questions, “Ever headed home from somewhere?”. “Dakota” by Ottessa Moshfegh finds a collegiate narrator given an assignment to describe himself as one of the fifty US states. It ends with that same character explaining that a stranger on the street will kill you, the reader, someday. These stories seem intentionally difficult to grasp.
Not every story necessarily strands a reader. In some cases, the mystery is welcomed. The contributions made by The Brothers Goat (a name chosen perhaps as an homage to the Grimms), entitled “The Study” and “The Spot” read like sadistic childhood parables. “And Given the Chance to Be Safe,” written by Alec Neidenthal, with its short blips of exposition and dialogue, turns out to be the most airtight of all the stories included. A torn family comes together after their son intentionally clogs the toilet, which is fixed by the steady hand of his grandmother.
Perhaps the line that best embodies the experience of reading this issue comes from Christine Schutt’s “Blank.” After two and a half pages of disjointed paragraphs of what must be pieces of uninterrupted thought (some only two words long), the enigmatic narrator mentions, “Your thoughts are so depressingly obvious. You’ll have to tell me because I don’t know what it is I’m thinking.” Finally, someone starts to make some sense around here.
Maybe the objectives of these stories are to engage above all else. Maybe the reader is supposed shift his or her reactions from confused to pissed to introspective a hundred times in a page. Intention may not be clear, but perception will always be present. It is possible to get something out of this issue of Sleeping Fish, but be prepared: Some stories will ask much of the reader. For those not faint of brain, these oddities will be enticing.