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BULL - 2012

  • Subtitle: {Men's Fiction}
  • Image: Image
  • Issue Number: Number 1
  • Published Date: 2012
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

BULL {Men’s Fiction} is best described as “handsome,” both for its subject matter and its appearance. The journal boasts a clean, striking design and attractive line illustrations by James-Alexander Mathers and Patrick Haley. I expected BULL editor Jarrett Haley to explain his journal’s subtitle in its debut print issue. Perhaps Haley’s silence is an indication that he wishes the reader to forge his or her own concept of what “men’s fiction” means.

Most of the stories in the journal are somewhat short, including “Urban Archery.” Curtis Dawkins captures the reader with his first sentence: “All week someone had been shooting arrows into my backyard.” The narrator doesn’t know why he keeps finding arrows buried in his lawn at a 60-degree angle. The next-door neighbor uses the backyard as a neutral corner between arguments with his wife; the narrator invites him inside in the interest of safety. Dawkins’s descriptions are precise, and the story’s primary flaw is a compliment: the narrative ends far too soon and the reader is left with a great desire to see what happens in the white space after the final sentence.

In “The Heart is a Strong Instrument,” Jon Morgan Davies turns a difficult trick by writing a story that takes place in virtual reality, but he does it in such a way that it makes sense and seems real. HouseGuy_42 is an avatar in an online virtual world during its most exciting time: before it becomes a mainstream punch line on Letterman, before pre-teens catch wind of the fad. HouseGuy_42 (and the man behind the keyboard) had been dating Janice_Bodiceripper for three months, going to virtual parties, treating freeloader friends to in-game snacks, and reaching the world’s limit for physical interaction (someplace between first and second virtual bases). Then the game changes. HouseGuy_42 learns the ultimate lesson of the digital age: no matter the societal impact of technology, people remain the same.

The contemporary acceptability of instinct is also the focus on Tom Bonfiglio’s “Separation.” Jon and his wife Jill have been together and in love since they were pre-teens. They live in a nice neighborhood that is thrown into slight disarray when folks learn that Fred Bryce, the area’s newest homeowner, spent four years in jail for lewd and lascivious behavior with a thirteen-year-old. Fred and his wife unexpectedly become friends when Jon and Jill refuse to sign a petition to force the man to leave. The story illustrates that fear and legislative absolutes are the enemy of community. Bonfiglio treats sensitive issues with respectful honesty and paints polarizing characters with the complex humanity they seldom receive.

Ryan Glenn Smith’s “Ventura” is a gritty and fun page-turner. Barry’s Pontiac Ventura doesn’t have a functioning radio or a slick paint job, but Barry installed a newer, much larger engine to make it fast. The car’s top speed is the reason Reggie, a friend with a checkered past, asks Barry for a ride to the bank so he can deposit a check. Imagine Barry’s surprise when Reggie emerges from the bank clutching a garbage bag full of money and tells him to punch it. While on the lam, Barry weighs friendship against jail time while Reggie enjoys himself. Unfortunately, making a lucky getaway after a bank heist doesn’t mean a person is smart enough to keep the money.

Managing Editor Jared Yates Sexton contributes the journal’s only nonfiction piece, an interview with Chuck Klosterman. Sexton asks his subject provocative questions that lead Klosterman to reveal a great deal about his process and to explain the trajectory of his career. In spite of the success Klosterman has had, he still fears that it’s all “just going to end one day.” Although self-confidence is a traditional marker of male adulthood, Klosterman—like many of the characters in BULL’s stories—confronts the world in a complicated manner that is appealing to readers of any gender.

Reflecting on this idea of "men's fiction," I consider BULL’s protagonists to be spiritual brothers of the men who populate the fiction of writers such as Raymond Carver and Lee K. Abbott. The men in these excellent stories are more nuanced than society sometimes believes. These men are motivated equally by primal desires and contemporary cultural expectations. These men like things the way they were, but are doing their best to adapt.

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Review Posted on May 14, 2012

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