According to neuroscientists at the University of Florida, lobsters may be the key to bomb detection. In other words, reality is fast approaching the fantastic, so for the modern surrealist to distinguish herself, she must court the right sound in the right place with the right pitch and endless imagination. The right place just might be apt, a publication of Aforementioned Productions.
apt showcases a range of talents in this “Surveillance Issue.” Writers eschew traditional forms successfully; the reader constantly considers truths among intriguing points of view, inventive structures, reason propped up against fractured skylines. Unlike other postmodern efforts, where the oddity and ambiguity may permit dodging the meaningful and the political, the writers of apt experiment, yes, but with a careful and brilliant purpose.
Take Matt Thompson’s short story “P.O.W.” The speaker is a stunning secret; we continually learn and revise what we’ve learned about him. It is not so forthright as Priya Chandrasegaram’s “How to Spoil Your Daughters During a Civil War,” which precedes it. While Chandrasegaram’s story manages the fantastic with a strong and steady hand, Thompson’s narrator is closer to a Salinger heartbreak, and the only thing I am sure of is love. Thompson’s narrator describes his mother’s toes early in the story, and one chalks it up to Checkov’s gun on the wall, where we expect the toes to figure in later, but can’t be sure because of the lyrical variability of the voice. He delivers. “I’m okay with just knowing that there are still toes like that in the world,” the narrator says after his mother has died and he is passing by a passel of hookers in sandals. That was the most powerful sentence possible, for an overwhelming signal of reconciled grief.
Per their introductory note, the editors have historically shied away from themes, but this collection is unified subtly, with that characteristic purpose we see in its pages. The editors note, in introducing the issue, “It may be unsettling to consider the ways these stories, poems, and essays view the world, but that will fall away when you remember all the ways in which we consistently survey ourselves.”
Poet Sam Cha manages to capture this spirit in a pair of poems titled “[Seoul, June 1995, Night]” and “[Harvard Square, Marathon Day 2013],” respectively. The horror is not told, but illustrated to the sing-song rhythm of a plague-era chant:
Now they run from bumblebees, from ants—they dash ahead into the graveyard on Church Street, where they chase pigeons, throw breadcrumbs, hair streaming behind them the exact shape of April. When the firetrucks start passing by, they hoot along with the sirens for fun. They count the headstones one by one.
Justin Waldron’s story “Meat” describes a character with a deformity that is at once a result of an accident at a meat-packing plant and a tool to make others uncomfortable—or so the narrator suggests. The perception of his own self-hatred is clear, even though his story is deliberately categorized and fragmented. The reader is reminded of all of the refuse of labor wars—bloodier fights when energy was more manpower, less oil and coal. He makes clear how the game has changed to the disadvantage of the worker, how a young man can be manipulated into thinking the accident is his fault, an extension of extant spiritual emptiness.
On a more ephemeral octave, C.E. Garrett’s short story “Plaint for the Meteorite,” is wonderfully spoken in the third-person. In some ways, we may recognize the lobster smelling explosives—one does not automatically believe in the combustion in the story, but it reads so well that we don’t mind the exaggeration. The last paragraph of the story lifts the tale into a fabulous arc, one that makes perfect sense even against metaphor and allusion.
All of this commentary concerns apt’s annual print version. The publisher’s website provides considerable guidance (and an archive) to its historic digital editions and supplies a helpful checklist for writers. A note to the business model: in 2011, apt added the print facet of the journal, which had been previously an online venture. This decision marks a fascinating departure from many print journals going in the other direction, a sign of innovation and vitality.