I like literary magazines. I read a lot of them, although I don’t review them on here too often. I just read a new one called The Rag (well it’s new to me, but this is Issue 5 so I assume it’s been around for at least a year or two).
I like reading literary magazines because of the variety of stories and styles you tend to get, especially with newer ones. Sometimes with the more established magazines you can start to recognize a certain type of story that they always publish, and that’s not so fun. In the newer ones, though, it tends to be a free-for-all, and I like that.
In issue 5 of The Rag, for example, you go from a mortician running off with one of the dead bodies to a story about a dysfunctional family where the puppy chews off Mom’s foot and then gets suffocated when the kids try to wrap him up as a Christmas present.
Actually I chose those two stories at random, but they are fairly representative of the whole. These are quite dark stories for the most part, full of death and desperation and an inability to connect. Despite this, I wouldn’t call them depressing stories: in fact there’s often a surprising lightness to the story-telling.
It’s hard to tell sometimes from author bios, which can be capricious and/or obscure and/or downright fictional, but quite a few of the writers seem to be American twenty-somethings with little publication history, and it’s good to see this kind of raw energy in their writing. There’s much talk of the numbing effect of creative writing programmes, but although many of the writers in this issue were graduates of this or that programme, I saw little sign of conformity. What I saw was a technique and polish that’s impressive for people early on in their writing careers. Maybe they learnt a thing or two.
My favourite story was Vibrancy by Marcus Emanuel, a second-person tale about a school teacher who gets a little too involved with one of his students. It’s difficult to write about an adult teacher picturing his teenage student’s nipples without making him into a standard-issue pervert, but Emanuel gets the balance just right, making him/you seem more innocent than depraved. “You” are looking for a connection, a friendship, someone who needs you, someone you can protect. There are some great little mini-scenes interjected into the story, telling either what happens in the end or what you dream of doing:
Imagine you are standing next to your car at the edge of a cornfield and you throw your cell phone into it. You get back into your car and begin to drive. Imagine driving endlessly but never getting tired. You would have driven through the earth’s full rotation around the sun. At your leisure, you would stumble across some mom and pop hardware store. Imagine how your muscles would ache as you stretch them stepping out of the car…
My main criticism of the issue is that although there’s a lot of variety in the whole thing, a lot of similar stories are placed next to each other. There was a run of about five stories near the beginning where it felt as if I was reading a literary version of The Sopranos: cop kills abusive man to protect his lover, guy gets involved in credit card scam, guy has to kill other guy because he falls in with gangsters, guy owes money to a loan shark, man kills other man who’s having an affair with his wife. The whole thing balances out in the end, but the run of crime stories felt a bit repetitive.
Overall, though, it’s a magazine with a fresh, interesting take on contemporary America, and I’ll certainly be looking out for future issues and for more stories by some of the writers featured here.
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I had heard good things about The Rag over at Parish’s blog. I think that these magazines are fantastic. The digital age has made them so much easier to access. Now if I only had more time to read them..
Yes, you’re right – having time to read them is the big issue. Strangely I find that more difficult now than so many are digital. When I bought a magazine in a bookshop and had it sitting on my coffee table or nightstand, I’d be much more likely to read it. When it’s sitting on my Kindle or my hard drive, it tends to get forgotten.
But it’s worth it in my view for the ease of access to magazines from around the world, and the lower setup costs which allow lit mags to proliferate.
Nice review, Andrew! I haven’t heard of ‘The Rag’ before and so it was wonderful to discover it through your post. I liked what you said about the new writers featured in the magazine having technique and polish in their prose. It is interesting that your favourite story was written in the second-person. I think I have read just one short story with a second-person point of view. I hope to read Italo Calvino’s ‘If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller’ which is in the second-person, someday. Have you read this book? Thanks for introducing a new literary magazine to us.
Yes, Calvino’s book is excellent! I read it a few years ago and reviewed it on here:
Nice to know that you liked Calvino’s book, Andrew. Thanks for the link to your review. Off to read it now 🙂