Hallucinations, Magical Realism, Horror...And Golf?
Moon Milk Review, an online-only journal, is in transition. The last issue was published to the website in Fall 2011, and the next will be in a new name and location, as The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, under the auspices of the Johns Hopkins M.A. in Writing program. So we won’t be seeing new issues of the Moon Milk Review again, but the last one might offer us a sneak peek of what’s to come when Eckleburg gets running.
MMR is an arts magazine as well as a literary one, and the Fall 2011 issue begins with the visual: a video collage about Occupy Wall Street set to what’s identified as “French punk rock ska.” The video already feels a little dated, just months after its release, but that might well be considered a part of its value—it captures an energy and passion that belong to the early days of that movement and shouldn’t be forgotten too soon. The Occupy video is followed by a gallery of paintings by Jim Fuess, an artist who works with acrylic paint to create worm-like shapes on canvas that, depending how you look at them, might be abstract or might represent people or worms or something else entirely. The presentation is straightforward: seven paintings are presented in thumbnail, and you click on each one to see a larger version.
This kind of work would perhaps be more arresting in a well-produced print magazine than on the web, where screen resolution puts limits on the size and vividness of the paintings, but it’s good to see visual art being given a venue alongside literary work.
The last visual presentation in this issue is a novelty, a “horror wall” consisting of 24 YouTube videos of horror movie trailers. The accompanying texts suggest watching them one at a time or all at once. I don’t recommend starting more than six at a time (and watch out for the Killer Klowns from Outer Space trailer, which is so loud it obscures the sound of every other video). There’s no apparent bigger point here, but it’s a fun way to play around in the digital sandbox. There’s also an interview with writer Matt Bell, chiefly about his new short-story collection How They Were Found.
The literary work is predominantly fiction, all of which is by men, most of it in the first person or a close third. The writer’s guidelines for MMR state an interest in “magical realist, surrealist, metarealist and realist works with an offbeat spin.” A couple of the stories here hinge on what may or may not be hallucinations, though the narrative isn’t able to tell us whether that’s really what they are.
“Black Angel” gives the possible hallucinations to a man with cancer. This story feels like part of something; we don’t know all of what’s going on, and perhaps the author doesn’t either, but the visions are compellingly described. “Commute,” by contrast, places the main character’s visions so solidly in the physical world that there would be no story without them. This is a smart and intentional story that gets where it needs to go and uses the central conceit—a narrator who sees other versions of himself—to a chilling and emotionally precise end.
Colin Fleming’s “Hail, the Eye” ranges farther from realism, with dual narrative voices speaking to each other telepathically about a bizarre phenomenon they’ve encountered while stationed in Botswana with the Peace Corps. The two protagonists were presumably well-intentioned at some point but have strayed rather far from that original intent—“I must not let my newfound xenophobia get the better of me,” one of them says early in the story. The narrative here may pull you along almost faster than you think you can follow, but stay with it: the storytelling pulls the reader through to the end with a profound sense of urgency.
Darin Bradley’s “Syntagm” is the most realistic of the fictional works collected here, and it’s movingly honest in its exploration of a friendship among three geeky teenage boys. The narrator sums up the particular earnestness of these characters when he states, “We mean these things adolescently, which is the greatest way to mean them.” The fiction section is then rounded out by “Halloween Feature: Richard Peabody,” which is about zombies and werewolves and vampires and, for some reason, golf (has there been a horror movie about golf yet?).
Two poets are featured: J. Bradley with “Fidelity Is Not an Insurance Company You Can Ignore”—a poem that is longer than its title, but not by much—and Lea Marshall with four poems. These offer some beautiful close observation, and “Genus: Corvus,” gives us a meditative retelling of a story about the first Dalai Lama. After reading all the short stories in this issue in succession, one might be forgiven for feeling a little trapped inside one’s own head, and not sure whether that’s the best place to be; these poems, with their careful attention to tactile details, are a welcome respite.
As something of a chaser, the issue ends with a work of “prosetry,” the winner of a contest for works under 500 words that describe an image chosen by the magazine. There’s a prompt for another contest, although it’s not clear whether it will go ahead since the magazine is on hiatus pending its transition into The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. Whether or not the contest continues, let’s hope that the talent attracted to Moon Milk Review doesn’t dissipate in the journal’s new life.
See more reviews.