The world of the literary journal, like many other things, is a cyclical one. In some of the worst news of 2018, we heard that Tin House, a bastion of modern literary short fiction, was finally closing its print magazine, after almost 20 years. Other magazines like Glimmer Train, Rookie Mag, all very popular sites have also begun slowing down and shutting their doors, bringing us to the question: what does this all mean for literary short fiction?
Well for one, it means that not enough people are supporting them. How many of us here will devour the prescribed classics but turn up our noses at ‘modern fiction’? Given the conversations I’ve had about it, quite a few of us. Thankfully, for every magazine that shuts down, ten indie magazines and journals spring up in its place. The thing about the advent of online publishing is that much work is easily accessible, and this also means that great writing can be found in many places, not only those with huge names and followings like The New Yorker or The Paris Review. So if you’re new to the literary journal scene, or would like to start reading more of it, welcome. Here are a few stories that I think are worthy enough to be called the best of last year, and that I hope you will enjoy as well.
The list is by no means exhaustive, nor am I claiming that this is an ‘official’ ranking in any way—these are just the stories that stuck with me and left traces of themselves in my thoughts over the course of the year. Most, if not all, can be found online.
‘Some Days the Bees are Melancholic’ by Melissa Goodrich and Dana Diehl in The Offing
‘It’s very hard for the bees during exams. They never stay behind their privacy folder, and their table partners complain that the bees are cheating. After the quiz is over, the bees struggle to free read. As a collective, they try and fail to lift a pencil, to turn a page, to return a dictionary to a shelf.’
This is a brilliant story of privilege and how we view the other, as well as what it means to be truly unique, all told through the lens of a primary school teacher whose own life is falling apart just as a swarm of bees enters her classroom.
‘The Year We Fell in Love & the Forest Happened Around It’ by Topaz Winters in Corvid Queen
‘With the boys too asleep to police us, our bodies were no longer crime scenes, but gardens. Love was something known & breathing still, inevitable as clouds parting after the endless storm.’
A retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, it weaves together a double-edged sword in the two main characters, femininity as both silk and sword. If you love gorgeously winding prose and imagery, this is for you.
‘Chinaman, Run’ by Kathryn Hargett in The Adroit Journal
‘Mother has already died again & again, wrapped in different pelts, different barbarisms curdling her tongue.’
This is a stunning experimental contemplation of mother-daughter relationships, told between visits to a rehabilitation centre for young girls with eating disorders and a disjunction between the narrator as she is pinned under a psychologist’s scrutinising eye to how she views herself through her past.
‘Days’ by Sylvia Watanabe in Wildness
‘In Father’s version, they met in a book. A night of no-sleep, prowling the dim-lit stacks of the library. Somewhere between picornaviridae and retroviridae, he happened to glance up and there she was. It was morning, and she was standing in a ray of winter sun.’
Some stories just make you feel like you’re sitting in a dazzling sunlit field dressed in all white, as a sudden feeling of loss and nostalgia washes over you—only you cannot remember what it is you have lost. This is one of those stories.
‘These Threads Who Lead to Bramble’ by Russell Persson in Territory
‘I’ve slept in the sun in the back seat in Oakland drunk on afternoon gin and tossing hours away I’d wish back. The back seat as a carrol in between moments. In transition but at the mercy of others.’
This too is a very experimental piece, told in fragments and interspersed with pencil-drawn maps. What will captivate you the most is its constant movement, sometimes fast and sometimes slow, but never stopping, always looking forward.
Image Credit: Diliff via Wikipedia Commons