Unstuck, a relatively new literary journal based in Austin, Texas promises “literary fiction with elements of the fantastic, the futuristic, or the surreal . . . everything from straight-up science fiction and fantasy to domestic realism with a twist of the improbable.” After reading this thick—well over 500 pages—issue, it is that last line, “domestic realism with a twist of the improbable,” that seems most applicable to the surprising pieces in Unstuck. While many of the selections could be called “weird” in one way or another, most of the pieces are grounded in a reality.
In “Maria and the Mice” by Charles Antin, for example, a recent graduate who won “The Award for Excellence in English” takes a temp job caring for mice that are scientific research animals. He finds his prize applicable to this job in that “it was a liberal arts thing so I’m very good at picking up stuff. I learned how to learn.” That disconnect grows deeper as the narrator imagines that Maria, the woman training him, is falling for him, as his thoughts place her and him in situations that are clearly derived from his reading or movie-watching. When he gets bit by a mouse and Maria tends to the wound, he sees himself on the Italian battlefields of WWII, being treated by a nurse, only to be crushed when Maria is won over by an Italian soldier after the war. He then gets gonorrhea from a Macy’s sales girl while riding in a taxicab in New York City. The allusions range from the obvious to the more obscure, but are funny, and the story winds up with an innovative ending.
Julieta García González’s story “The Beginner in a Yoga Class” (translated from the Spanish by Toshiya Kamei) concerns a brash new student to a yoga class who “came in trying, as always, to get noticed, but no one paid her much attention.” During this lesson, however, the class is forced to pay attention to her as her posture and appearance begin to take on aspects of each pose that the instructor asks of the class. Her transformation starts slowly, in tadasana, the mountain pose, with dirt appearing between her toes and on her thighs without any apparent reason. The changes become more drastic, as her body becomes coated with armor during the Warrior 2 pose. The story hovers between the unreal and real as the class bands together to try to rescue the woman from being permanently stuck in a pose.
“Family Mart” by Elizabeth Browne takes place in Thailand. The main character is Martine, who’s shopping at Family Mart after taking time off from her job because her left arm is sprouting a hoof. As the story progresses, Martine becomes closer to Charo, a Family Mart clerk who helps her down the instant noodle aisle, remembering “all of her preferences.” She tries to hide the hoof, but when she eventually encounters Charo at Chatuchak Market, an enormous and more traditional stall market, secrets come out for both of them. Browne’s writing neatly tucks absurd elements into the daily lives and emotions of the characters.
Another great story in this issue of Unstuck is Elizabeth McCracken’s “Foundling,” which is about a baby who gets returned into the book drop at a New England public library. The librarians decided to keep and raise her, and the girl grows up among the stacks. McCracken skillfully intertwines the life of the girl with the slow disintegration of the library.
Unstuck contains exciting pieces by a number of other writers, among them, Caitlin Horrocks, J. Robert Lennon, and Ed Park. There are poems by Dean Young and Matthew Zapruder and others, and a nonfiction piece by Erik Anderson. Unstuck does a superb job of mixing newer authors with more established ones. The work in this journal weaves an idiosyncratic tone and provides the reader with strikingly original viewpoints.