The editors of Barrelhouse can always be counted upon to present works that occupy the necessary space on the spectrum between “literary” and “pop culture.” Barrelhouse is the perfect journal to present to friends and family (or even strangers) who have far too long deprived themselves of the magic and potential of poetry, prose and even graphic art.
The thematic section in Issue 8 focuses upon “Office Life,” a drudgery to which most of us can relate. In “Assistant to the Vampire,” Melissa Yancy’s first-person narrator is a somewhat weary human resources cog in an increasingly antiquated machine: a non-profit that makes books on tape for the blind. Ordinarily, the narrator checks the suggestion box and finds monotony: repeat requests for an org chart or the proposal for a “TASK FORCE.” The banality is broken when a mystery coworker fills the suggestion boxes with mysterious prose about the boss: “Most of the mythologies are not true. Her belly does not become distended, full of blood, and she does not return to breast feed her children. If she licks the shadow of a victim, the person will not die. And she cannot steal a soul. Which does not mean she wouldn’t like to.” Yancy maintains a high level of suspense as the narrator investigates, building to a satisfying and somewhat unexpected conclusion.
Adam J. Scott’s “Harvest Day” is a disturbing little story about Charles, a truck mechanic who makes extra money driving a charter bus from time to time. The story is pleasantly deceptive in a way; at first, it seems like a conventional meditation on the depressed and emotionally distant older male. This disconnection from internal and external life is challenged when Charles sees a field of “snow melons,” genetically modified fruits covered with fur. Snow melons are “about twice the size of a watermelon, maybe three feet long and two feet wide.” Revealing too much of the plot would do Mr. Scott a disservice. It is enough to say that Charles reconnects with his humanity through his connection with a decidedly inhuman creature.
Aaron Burch’s short story “Prestidigitation” contains some perfectly cringe-worthy descriptions of the magic tricks performed by Linda, Roy’s conjuror girlfriend. The piece reminds us that communicating with those around us can be far harder than it should be and using words may not be the most potent way of getting your message across.
There is a great deal of clever work in the issue. Bryan Furuness contributes an interesting analysis of Facebook, revealing that the service is really “a book with hundreds of point-of-view characters.” In each issue of Barrelhouse, an artist adapts a story from the journal’s web site. This time, it is Mary Miller’s “Go Fish.” The story illuminates the difficulties inherent in making an interpersonal connection and Matthew E. Dawson’s black-and-white pen and ink drawings fit the theme quite well.
As always, Barrelhouse inspires complicated thought about the commonplace. The journal’s ethos is an important one; we would all benefit from living in a world in which all aspects of society are scrutinized and appropriately valued.