"Sailing to Utopia" by Ruth Nestvold
"Teotihuacan" by Barth Anderson
"Perfect Pitch" by David Ira Cleary
"I Can’t Touch Them" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
"The Apocalypse: A Pamphlet" by Meghan McCarron
"Learning to Leave" by Christopher Barzak
I’m rather used to enjoying every issue of Flytrap; it only comes out twice a year, and as such every installment is a rare and anticipated treat. This issue is no exception–I liked every story in it (to a varying degree), and would especially like to single out contributions by Meghan McCarron and Christopher Barzak as the best in this issue.
"Cows, Water, Whiskey" by Haddayr Copley-Woods is a triptych of quite short stories. The sly and conversational tone of the narrator lends the piece a feel of a folktale, although the stories as well as their morals are a bit more sophisticated. In the first story, a woman is learning to count cows. In the second, a man sets out on a perilous journey to find a villain who poisoned the river that flows through his village. In the last, a girl is looking for her lost stepfather. Each of the stories concludes with an old-fashioned moral, but these are never what you expect. Excellent read.
"Sailing to Utopia" by Ruth Nestvold is told in a series of email exchanges, as Pica takes a leave of absence from the University of Oregon (due to a persistent stalker who her friend Geoff doesn’t take as a serious threat) to take a tour of three Utopias–New Boston (a Communist version), Herland (women-only utopia), and Utopia (a rather Puritanical take on the idea). While I liked the story, I felt that it would benefit from being longer; the Utopias are thinly sketched, and thus seem caricatures rather than real places. Moreover, the plot is split between the emailed travelogue and the stalker affair. I enjoyed this story, even though I wished it had a bit more depth.
Barth Anderson‘s "Teotihuacan" is quite short, more of a sketch than a story, and it is done extremely well. A boy and his stepfather journey to an archeological site in Mexico, to make one cell phone call from the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. The description of Mexican terrain rings true, not surprisingly; Mr. Anderson’s first novel, The Patron Saint of Plagues, takes place there. The open ending works the way those are supposed to–it doesn’t leave the reader hanging, but invites to contemplate the possibilities.
"Perfect Pitch" by David Ira Cleary is the longest of the stories, and the least successful. It tells the story of Fendie, a tone-deaf girl who moves to Wyoming with her heavy-metal obsessed father. Her father’s new job is to test new virtual realities, and he gets stuck inside the one that features his favorite band, Malfeasance. The virtual reality thing is not new, and I wish more time was spent with Fendie as she explores her new environment. There were many interesting threads that led nowhere in particular–the plotline with Kyle, the boy Fendie is interested in just ends, and his appearance closer to the end of the story feels contrived. The hints of the world are fascinating–Wyoming is one of the "independent states," for example. I hope that this story is a part of a novel, where these fascinating tidbits are explored in greater detail, and where this interesting world can be realized to its full potential.
"I Can’t Touch Them" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman is a tale of a girl who watches her sister being carried up by the angels every night. When their mother finds out about it, she is not happy and decides to put an end to the phenomenon. This is a short and poignant piece, full of longing for something one cannot touch yet cannot bear to see destroyed. A perfect little gem.
"The Apocalypse: A Pamphlet" by Meghan McCarron is a piece of meta-fiction. The narrative alternates between the girl named Meghan who hands out pamphlets in Philadelphia park, and the contents of the said pamphlet. Both are fascinating, and written in precise and interesting prose. Trying to summarize the plot would be a waste of time, so I’m just going to encourage you to read the story. Oh, and if you haven’t been paying attention to Miss McCarron’s fiction, now’s a good time to start.
"Learning to Leave" by Christopher Barzak is told from the point of view of a twelve year old girl who witnesses the abusive relationship between her parents, and her mother’s attempt to escape. There are also circus elephants, tied to tiny saplings, who don’t realize that they are strong enough to break their bonds; this is a wonderful image that summarizes the story quite well. Even though the speculative element is slight, the story leaves a strong taste of something magical. The issue of abuse is handled well, without the hamfistedness or moralizing often found in such stories.
A highly recommended issue, and I strongly encourage everyone who is interested in short fiction to subscribe to Flytrap. This is one of those zines where new and interesting things are happening.