Faultline is the journal of the English department at the University of California-Irvine. The journal has a quiet, slightly offbeat feel to it. Much of the fiction is the kind that could be about people you know—but, then, there’s just something different, something slightly magical and slightly weird about it.
Two stories in this issue stand out immediately: “Good for You” by Lauren Spohrer and “The Man Who Killed Sun Moon” by Adam Johnson. Spohrer’s story concerns an unhappy woman who writes a note to a local newsman, Cliff Conway, and then goes to see him. He invites her to lunch, but then is not in his in office on the agreed upon date. The woman enters his office regardless, and then answers a phone call from his wife. Later, the newsman contacts her because his wife is concerned that he stood up the unhappy woman. She is invited over for dinner, and I don’t want to spoil the rest, except to say that the end is quite funny and quite sad.
Adam Johnson’s story, an excerpt from his recent novel, The Orphan Master’s Song, is about the daily life of a man who is presumably an interrogator in North Korea. Johnson’s story attempts to personalize and humanize a society that is not usually given an individual identity (though recent works like Barbara Demick’s Nothing to Envy have also been changing that).
Perhaps the most notable poem in the journal is Bob Hicok’s “Statistics in a Classless Society.” The poem starts with seemingly nonsensical statistics like: “Two ninths of seven-eighths of the three quarters / of everyone dreams of the prissy overthrow / of the government by standard poodles,” but, by the end of the poem, concludes with the forceful: “One percent of the people / own thirty-four point six percent / of the wealth. You can’t make this shit up.” Such moves—from the dreamy, to the punch in the face—are endemic to this journal, and part of what makes much of the writing in it so effective.
An interesting series of prose poems by Michael Garriga runs throughout Faultline. Each piece presents a different time period, but all seem to deal with duels. The duels range from dueling pistols to dueling versions of the story of a scalping to dueling cars racing on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere. Garriga’s tales offer different points of view on recurring events, and the lack of overlap in the details never fails to surprise the reader.
Faultine also features artwork from David Hernandez, Scrappers, Ann Ploeger, Jacob Heustis, and Leah Ruby. My favorite is a large tan square by Heustis that features a slightly off-centered mouth (lips, teeth and tongue only—no face) locked in a scream. Next to the image, writing, as if from a child: “I’m having so much fun.” The picture’s simultaneous sense of sarcasm and playfulness makes it quite alluring. It contributes to the unsettling feeling that arises when reading many of the well-crafted pieces in this journal.
Faultline is a unique journal with an unpredictable sensibility—a sensibility well-honed in both humor and the macabre.