Reviewing Sixfold is an entirely different game due to the way submissions are selected. Instead of being voted on by a judge or editors of the magazine, submissions are voted on by other writers that submit, working their way up the ranks until the top 3 are selected for prizes and others are selected for inclusion into the issue.
The top ranked piece, Slater Welte’s “What Made Us Leave,” is set in an uptight suburban community where the narrator’s family doesn’t seem to fit in, yet the mother attempts to make them appear normal as possible. Unfortunately for her, when her husband, the narrator, finds a person’s severed hand while gardening, they are quickly exposed as anything but normal. As readers, we don’t get to see where the overly large hand came from or why it’s there. But this isn’t the compelling part to me. The way it is written off as just something strange makes me compelled to get into the mind of the narrator. If I found a hand in my garden, I would scream and run. But this doesn’t seem to be any of the characters’ reactions; the narrator, in fact, seems more concerned about how it affects his garden than disturbed by the severed hand.
Heather Frese’s “The Coffee Table Book of Funeral Etiquette” (ranked second) is one of the best funeral stories I’ve read in a while. Although it has the typical elements (narrator doesn’t know what to do, points out how people just don’t understand, contemplates sex as a cure to feel normal), this story feels fresh as it is structured around the narrator’s idea to create a coffee table book, full of pictures and instructions, about how to act at a funeral. Take, for example, these rules she creates:
It is unwise to mix alcohol and grief when another set of calling hours await. Save your imbibing for the wake. Remember, too, that consumption of alcohol may induce false memories of closeness with the deceased.
It gives advice with a sting of the truth. But ultimately, the narrator, upon comforting her son in the middle of the night, decides that when it comes to funerals, “there are no rules, except that sometimes there are.”
And although these two strong pieces made it to the top, I would have voted for Bronwyn Berg’s “Try to be Normal” (ranked fourth). Written as diary entries from a young girl who has decided to stop speaking and close herself off, this piece perfectly gives tiny details to the reader to find out what is going on, even though the narrator doesn’t seem to understand. Images and lines from the characters are juxtaposed next to each other to reveal deeper meaning, connection, and symbolism. Take this excerpt, for example:
My mother also tells me that I had a strange first word. It wasn’t Mama or Dada like other kids it was “Help.” She also said that I called Dad “not Mother” and I called my sister Bridget “Not me.” Eventually I learned their names, of course. I’m not a retard. Which is not a nice word. I know this, because I’ve been called it. Sometimes when Bridget and I walk home from school the kids sing “Extra, extra read all about it, Birdie’s retarded, no doubt about it!” Bridget hates it when they sing that. . . . I asked Mother if I was a retard and she said I wasn’t. She said I was just different. I asked Bridget what it means to be different and she said “Not normal.”
Berg’s bio says that this is her debut fiction piece, and I was shocked. She should keep writing, and you should really go enjoy this piece for yourself.
And while I’ve mentioned only three pieces, there is a ton more in the issue to read, well over 200 pages’ worth. Because readers and voters can, and I assume will, constantly change, the selection process and feel of the magazine will, too, making it a very flexible and dynamic publication, varying as the readers do.