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Monkeybicycle 7by Steven Seighman
Synopses & Reviews
From the moment it appeared in my inbox, Monkeybicycle7 felt big. Weighing in at a beefy 200 pages of high-concept, unpredictable writing, it’s as long as a screenplay and delivers a distinctly cinematic feel.
Like a multiplex owned and managed by David Lynch, MB7 presents a diverse choice of absorbing, frequently disturbing, mini-movies in which to lose yourself. You will not find tight, ruthlessly edited works here. Instead the stories and poems roll and weave, taking you deeper and revealing new layers just when you think they’re going to wind up.
Craig Davis’s ‘Fire the Men Who Made the Moon’ kicks off MB7 with some knowing advice from a worldly older voice to a young kid following in the same tragic footsteps. Defying any preconceptions you might bring, the story draws vignettes on a lifetime’s worth of mistakes and lessons learned the hard way, elegantly modulating tense and style before wrong-footing you with an ending as impenetrable as a sudden cut to black.
Next up, two poems, ‘Fellow Man’ by Daniel Romo and ‘Letter for a Young Poet’ by Rita Dahl, both of which build on the brooding atmosphere of the introduction before ‘Your Dreams and What They Mean’ by Angi Becker Stevens takes things off in another direction. Describing the relationship between a couple who meet in their dreams - both insisting they are the ‘dreamer’ - it’s full of the kind of colourful, shifting surreality provided by Terry Gilliam:
But the man in Amelia’s dreams ushered in a new era. Her dreams became odd, silly. Colors got more vibrant. People walked goats on leashes; bottles of cream soda grew like apples on trees.
Shya Scanlon’s ‘Waiting’ features an unhappily married rape-fantasy call-girl with literary leanings exploring her unhappy past. Far from depressing, it throbs with unspoken emotion like a good indie film, has a cameo from the author himself, and some great lines -
He’d had a strict prohibition in class against discussing what he termed “dead information, the kind of breathy chatter that grew on all language like a mold.
‘A Certain Mental Toughness’ by Tyler Stoddard Smith is a haphazard action comedy that could be directed by Edgar Wright, and the weirdness gets weirder in Ryan Boudinot’s ‘Chopsticks’ when the protagonist’s cat develops a drug problem. ‘Chopsticks’ embodies the character of MB7 perfectly. Instead of the quirky 500-word throwaway this story could have been elsewhere, here it receives real love and consideration, and every tragic day of Chopsticks’ decline is lain out for us to agonise/snigger through. It also includes one of the most memorable lines in the edition -
Our fucking reminds me of one of those commercials for a greatest hits compilation album, with positions instead of songs.
‘On Anzio Beach’ by Elizabeth Alexander introduces an epic war movie tone, albeit a surreal, time-travelling one in which the main character is (spoiler alert) led by a talking dog detective and born at the end. Among other places, ‘On Anzio Beach’ transports the reader to the chaos and misery of a true hell on earth, a military hospital in the heart of a warzone. Except it’s not on earth, or as hellish as it first appears, and this big concept - like many in MB7 - deserves big-screen visualization. Trippy exploration of the universe continues in the mind of Reed Hearne’s aging professor in ‘It Takes Two Entangled’, and Yassen Vassilev’s own mind with the poem ‘Amnesia During Meditation’ -
this is when the sand will run out
Finally, things get very dark at the end with shades of noir horror from PANK’s own Roxane Gay in ‘The Weight of Water’. “Water and its damages followed Bianca” it begins, and it’s an affliction that soaks the story in rotten, squelching heartbreak from beginning to end.
If you read Roxane’s review of MB6, you’ll know her only criticism was the imbalance between poetry and fiction, which she attributed to her Libran nature. The imbalance is still present in MB7, but even as a fellow Libran, I don’t think it feels off-kilter at all. The order and pace is exactly right, and it’s the consistent control and craft within so much of MB7’s writing that makes it so engrossing.
If you want to be carried off for hours within writing that’s challenging, moving and above all entertaining, grab MB7 before they’re all gone.
The cover of Monkeybicycle7 features a sinuous, self-intersecting tangle of red-brown smoke coiling up the left edge of an otherwise blank white field, an image as classily textured as a MacBook desktop background. It is totally at odds with the tawdry carnival hoot of the journal’s name. That dichotomy pervades the Monkeybicycle aesthetic and lends it much of its strength.
There’s a powerful strain of McSweeney’s-esque cleverness and pathos in Seattle writer Ryan Boudinot’s “Chopsticks,” the tale of a hopeless metal dude’s drug-addicted cat. On the other end of the spectrum, the grad-student turned sex-professional protagonist of “Waiting” by Shya Scanlon is utterly believable in her display of weary, leftover erudition. The closing story, Roxane Gay’s “The Weight of Water,” will leave you green and dripping with just the mulchy, unshakable sadness you signed up for. Monkeybicycle’s defiant eclecticism necessarily entails a little unevenness in the content, but the good stuff is really good.
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