The “pop flotsam” and “cultural jetsam” captured between the covers of Barrelhouse offers the best of both worlds. The material is literary and meaningful while simultaneously maintaining broad appeal. The “Barrelhouse Editorial Squadron” consists of self-proclaimed “misfits,” and they have found a number of beautiful red-haired stepchildren for this issue.
The nonfiction essays concern the vulgar; the writers make them divine. Patrick Brown’s disturbingly deep and entertaining examination of The Hills is thoughtful enough to engage those who have not seen the show. Brown isolates the reason shows like The Hills are able to capture so much attention: “If the show is scripted, the writers are either geniuses or completely incompetent.” Heather Kirn’s essay charts the rise and fall of MTV and its many lamentable changes. The sad truth is that the first MTV generation now looks on the world and the network through “ever-wrinkling, nearly thirty-something eyes like windows on a lost age.”
Jay Wexler’s story, “The Adventures of Ed Tuttle, Associate Justice,” follows a Supreme Court Justice during his vacation in Wyoming. Wexler succeeds in two difficult tasks: humanizing a member of the land’s highest court and earning laughs and empathy on the same page.
Another unusual occupation is represented in Eric Roe’s “Security.” The first-person narrator’s girlfriend is a telephone psychic who fibs her way through tarot readings with cards depicting the members of the Rat Pack. The narrator accidentally takes some of his girlfriend’s calls and finds himself working through his own problems at the same time.
A minor gripe: Some of the pop culture references were misspelled throughout the issue, including “Snoop Dog[g]” and “Lynn[e] Cheney.” This is a most forgivable offense, particularly in an eclectic journal that earns so much good will with its content.