Armchair/Shotgun is certainly one of the most intriguingly named new literary journals around. The name is a reference to a Bob Dylan lyric, but the journal is more straightforward and less twisted in its mission than the average Dylan song. Their mission statement, which claims that they read all submissions completely anonymously, lays it out succinctly: “At Armchair/Shotgun we do not care about your bio . . . Good writing knows only story.” And story would seem to be a focus for this journal: tight, compact, highly inventive stories. Even the layout of the prose on the page, with its slightly wide margins, adds to the compact excellence of this edition; the wide margins seem to squeeze the prose to the middle of the page, up front and center, where it belongs.
Before I comment more on the prose, I’d like to praise the photographs of Cory Schubert, placed about two thirds of the way through the journal. Photographs of buildings, walls, cars and places; nearly all are devoid of humans. The light in which they are shot nearly leaps off the page. Schubert states that he only photographs between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm, in the California summer, in order to utilize “an alienating and clarifying light that creates a profound sense of isolation.” The brightness and glare of the light in these images creates a radiating color contrast that gives rise to an electrifying dissonance, heightening the sharpness of the surroundings captured in the photographs.
It is this strive to highlight a unique pinprick of isolated detail that permeates the stories and poetry in Armchair/Shotgun. One story that hovers between the real and a slip into the unreal, in the same way the photographs use color to disassociate the way the viewer perceives details, is Jackson Culpepper’s “Hammer Lane.” In the story, Wes, a minor just under the age of 18, steals a car and lights out from his home. He flees through Georgia, encountering people who help and hinder him in various ways. The firmest connection in the story, though, is to a CB radio that he buys to communicate with truck drivers on the road, to communicate through channels that usually go disguised and ignored, channels that are falling into disuse. There is something eerie and incongruous about a seventeen–year-old, on the run from the cops, speaking through a microphone in a disembodied voice over the airwaves with older truck drivers through fading technology. The story has a powerful but open ending.
Complementing Armchair/Shotgun’s commitment to up and coming, but always interesting, writers focused on story, this issue contains a wide-ranging interview with Jesse Ball. Perhaps the most salient bit of information is that he loathes interference from outside editors, and strives to find ways to work around accepting others’ comments, which he details in the interview. It seems he feels the need to protect his narratives because “the understanding that people have in common now is a cinematic understanding.” For that reason, he attempts to write about, to portray, ambiguity that is “based in possibility”—possibilities that will then be analyzed and misunderstood.
This hope of exploring possibility filters into other pieces in Armchair/Shotgun. Many concern characters on the go, people in between places. Their lives might be in shambles, but the stories and poems are certainly not. Armchair/Shotgun is an exciting new journal to keep an eye on.