April 15, 2017

Tales that Fracture the Imagination

Cover Credit: Tethered by Letters
Number 5, Summer 2016
135 pp
Tethered by Letters Publishing

Reviewed by Mindy Kronenberg

The most difficult thing about reading F(r)iction, a beautifully crafted and thoughtfully edited magazine of stories and poetic narratives, is putting it down. One is tempted to pore over the pages, revisiting the imaginative and distinctive illustrations that are custom-paired to each intriguing selection. They create a sense of excitation (sometimes with whimsy, sometimes foreboding) that enhances the experience of reading the surprising and often chilling tales that follow.

And then there are the stories that transport the reader from the glossy pages with inventiveness and graceful storytelling. There are echoes of Harlan Ellison at his most poetic, Ray Bradbury, Ursula K. LeGuin, George R.R. Martin, and others whose tales of morality and speculation prickle our sense of decency and our fear of the unknown.

In this issue, a short story by Dane Huckelbridge, “Ortolan,” introduces a highly prized dish in haute cuisine that tests greed against the practice in culinary cruelty, and a chef must finally decide whether to eschew his father’s famed (and notorious) recipe:
“Albert was not enthusiastic about it, the birthright or the dish, but he accepted both with the begrudging reluctance and unspoken resentment of those locked into lives by blood and tradition. Il y aura des consequences, his father would warn him, apron spattered with duck grease, fingers raw from peeling turnips, if you do not do things properly. And there are always repercussions if the old ways are ignored—especially with something as sacred as the preparation of Ortolan” (32).
“Leave,” Mike Raicht’s tale of love gone wrong during an alien invasion, creates a surprising amount of tension and suspense in three pages. “The Passing of Mr. and Mrs. Crow” by Daniel Knowlton reads as speculative-fable, with evocative passages and rich description:
“Fat drops of rain broke against the house. The wind clawed at the cliffs, pulling black clouds from the sea. Gabriel Crow descended into his basement. The old planks of the stairs stained the bottoms of his slippers ash gray. Cool air pooled in the darkness, as dry and as still as a tomb. Gabriel stamped is heel against the floor and found the spot that rang hollow. His back creaked as he bent over and pulled open a square hatch in the wood. The silence of the basement filled with the rhythmic, staccato ticking of the clocks. Down another set of stairs, Gabriel followed the sound” (11).
The biblical becomes a dystopic parable in “The Wife of Abel Grace” by Margaret Jameson, and teases out the identity of the narrator within a tragic tale of survival:
“Like all wives, our bodies, our choices, our lives were never truly our own. We lived within the confines they set. Mine were broader than most. Abel let me choose what to remember and what to forget. I chose to remember everything. He gave me something else others lacked, a goal—to help him create the life of your dreams. All you would have to do is walk in the door and embrace it” (129).
There are also selections of flash fiction, a serialized graphic novel, poems, an interview with and novel excerpt by Yaa Gyasi, and a special poetry feature from WriteGirl, a not-for-profit organization in Los Angeles that mentors at-risk teens and encourages creative empowerment. It is an inspiring and touching addition of seven works to this polished collection of voices and perspectives. “Martyrs,” by 16-year-old Valeria Olmedo, honors her mother and those who suffered from work in the textile industry:
Those maternal hands once braided my hair
Mutilated now, martyrs to that industry
Surely a hospital can fix them
just as she once fixed my dinner
But we have no money, and work beckons

My mother, to whom I owe my life, has
Beauty, like the Mexican mountains
spirit and soul, like Mexican music
She has survived, prolonged pain
She has her hands to prove it (42)
And from Erica Logan, age 13, lines from “There’s a Time:”
The time has come
To question the truths of this world,
But remember where I came from

The time has come
To leave the warmth of a mother sun
And fall back on what I once knew (45)
F(r)iction is an entertaining collection that serves as a paradigm for modern magazines. Its aesthetic is matched by its literary quality and, taken as a whole, provides a pleasurable heft in the hand, a delight for the eyes, and a strong stirring of the imagination.