More props are in order for the inaugural issue of this Portland prose journal. The Ne'er-Do-Well carries itself like a zine, an enfant terrible sneering at the establishment as all rejected writers in tiny presses are wont to do. Founder Sheila Ashdown explains that her intention was to encourage writers struggling with doubt. To keep writing, she says, "requires a high threshold for psychic pain and awkward conversation."
The five stories published here introduce us, among others, to Simon, a circus act known as Lobster Boy for his malformed hands; Miles, a banker who suddenly finds himself in the thick of a hardcore S&M lifestyle; and Jacob, a suicidal klutz who gets set up with a prostitute by his brother – stories about outcasts, lonely souls who flirt with the mainstream but find their lives flowing down the outer creeks. The Ne'er-Do-Well demonstrates just how much good, developed fiction is being written today. Granted, these stories don't have the neatest narration; they lack the polish and precision that gives such elan to work embraced by said establishment. But who needs all sparkle all the time? Below the surface of the "freak show narrative," one does find hard-earned lessons on life.
"Time Carves Off the Limbs," by Keith Rosson, combines the heavily used devices of the fortune teller and the Holocaust to give a history to an otherwise mysterious Gypsy woman. "Would change be bad for you?" she asks a customer:
"I don't know," Kalen says quietly, looking at Elisabeta's hand laced over hers. "Even if the known sucks, at least it's known, right?"
Elisabeta says, "And there lies the difficulty for all of us," trying hard not to smile. To be so young again is something she wouldn't wish on an enemy, much less herself.
The magazine also includes a nonfiction piece, in which Ricardo Perin makes sharp observations on U.S. culture by going all Indiana Jones at a gun show. "I didn't think it was too weird of a fashion statement," he writes, "mainly because the San Antonio gun show was scheduled at a Shriners temple – a pairing so offbeat that my appearance with a bullwhip was impish in comparison." Sure thing, Ricardo. Some stories are just too good to make up.