With a plethora of online magazines at our fingertips, it’s hard to know where to begin reading. Sometimes it’s best to go with something small and easy to digest, something like the quarterly Spartan magazine. Publishing works only 1500 words or less, and only three pieces per issue, Spartan offers readers engaging writing without requiring tons of commitment.
Ben Loory opens the issue with “The Fall,” a barebones piece that reads almost dreamlike in its simplicity and acceptance of odd events as they happen. Beginning and ending on a cliff and in a fall, Loory takes us full circle through a strange tale. According to his bio, Loory has a collection forthcoming from Penguin this year called Tales of Falling and Flying, and after reading the piece one wonders if this was originally part of the collection, and what compels Loory to recurringly focus on the subject.
In a completely different style of writing, Heather Jacobs pens “3 A.M.” a piece that visits a mother during the late night feedings of her premature son. What struck me about this piece was the repeated use of imagery of frogs: “The baby’s frog belly goes up and down, up and down, a miniature bellows.” Later, mother Ava compares her baby’s body to the feel of the river she swam in as a child, a bridge to carry us to Ava’s childhood when she would catch frogs from the creek:
She remembers one specimen in particular, no bigger than her thumb. It appeared to have claws on the ends of its webbed toes, thin as threads. In captivity, the frog hardly moved; it just stared through the glass, its throat and belly inflating and deflating, pumping tiny breaths.
Immediately, we see the connection between young Ava and grown Ava, between baby and frog. Jacobs moves on to wrap the story up expertly and poignantly, an intimate and heartfelt read.
Sean Gill briefly reflects on a moment of fatherhood in “Danger Nut,” the shortest piece this issue. Gill’s main character played the game Danger Nut in the Navy, a game he was uncommonly good at playing. He doesn’t seem that great, though, at connecting with his twin sons later in life. While trying to push them toward their own greatness, he ends up pushing them away: “The twins resented the attention and called him the Worst Dad Ever.” But Danger Nut, “dangerous and unexpected and [ . . . ] good,” momentarily brings them together. While short, Gill manages to create a piece that’s humorous and relatable for both parents and grown children, reminding me of the illicit ice cream dinners my “Worst Dad Ever” would provide when I was a teenager and mom wasn’t there to protest.
While there may not be any shortage of online literary magazines, Spartan stands out with well-written flash in miniature issues. The editors also produce a print annual for those who aren’t quite ready to wander into the online realm, but who still want to enjoy the prose the little magazine has to offer.