SHOCKING THE PARENTS
First review (that I've seen -- damn you so-called 'critics') of The Edgier Waters, by John Barker in the August 2006 issue of The Hastings Trawler (out next week, GBP3.00 inc. p+p), which Stuart Christie was kind enough to provide in advance:
"3:AM is an online magazine for short fiction, poems and essays. That such a thing exists is a boon to new writers, and to others that had been dependent on the support of small presses. It helps because it is -- has become -- a place where both readers and publishers interested in such writing will take a regular look. There are then routes to follow up the work of the different writers: this through their own individual websites, and mentions of their printed works. For the relationship is two-way, and The Edgier Waters, a collection from 5 years of the magazine in book form may attract new readers to it. That presumably is the intention.
The Introduction and Preface perhaps make rather too much of its boundary and taboo defiance: a defiance of "fashionabilty and market forces too," Michael Bracewell proclaims, especially when the very title Edgier Waters is from a Guardian puff for 3:AM, and when The Times, quoted on the cover, calls it "a dream publication for the young, literary and clued-up." The weakest pieces in what is necessarily an up-and-down collection are those which seem designed with shocking the parents in mind, and though the fetishizing of authenticity deserves the boot, strippers, prostitutes and junkies do seem to have become cliched staples of 'cutting edge writing'. Jim Ruland's 'The Stripper in her Natural Habitat' seems terribly familiar, whereas the much, much shorter 'Cured' of Jim Martin, both stories of female anger and revenge has much more of a kick to it, though good editing would have cut the final paragraph. Explanation and the rounding-off of stories, you feel, have little place in 'cutting-edge fiction'. Other stories needed more space: the condensation of a William Gibson type piece mixing the genres of sci-fi and hard-boiled crime -- 'Maryland' -- was too much.
What is noticeable in both British and American writing, here is the male as a tosser, just not up to it, and this in writing by men. In the English material this often involves the self referential world of off-beat culture. In Alistair Gentry's 'Ecosystem Discovered in Saatchi's Pocket,' these traits are, intentionally or unintentionally overthrown when Rocco the number-one tosser of the story becomes the person of substance in his death. This English self-referential world does work in other instances like in HP Tinker's 'The Morrissey Exhibition' which, with a light touch has the singer's miserabilism and fame set out as any other exhibition in which a new exhibit will be "the small earthquake experienced personally by Morrissey himself on 3rd July 2002" and which says more about celebrity -- the capitalist version of the Cult of the Personality -- than a whole genre of novels with this theme. It's a real achievement to make something of satire which nowadays is so easily soggy. Better still is the sharpness under the apparent whimsy of Ben Myers' 'The Missing Kidney'.
The collection also includes two essays in appreciation of other writers, generous pieces on Stewart Home and B.S. Johnson. Paul Tickell who directed a film of Johnson's Christy Malry novel -- and is also refreshingly generous to its screenwriter -- is right to pick out both the class rage and the prescience of the novel, but cannot resist the put-down of his own contemporaries to make his point, "Johnson," he says, "was an experimental writer but not in some nancy-boy post modernist way..." Who is he referring to, some of the other writers in this collection? Richard Marshall's piece on Stewart Home argues coherently for a link back from Home's work to the radical press, and its working class interests, and particularly to the work of Hazlitt, and his craft journalism and notes how difficult it is in our times "for a working class culture to flourish and elaborate itself." He is right to praise both Home's persistence, avoidance of compromise and his own craft. But to Marshall this is not enough. For one thing he gives no historical context, nothing about that time of confident working class from the mid-fifties to seventies taking rebellion out of the hands of an elite bohemianism, or the role of political defeat on that mass culture. For another it depends on the put-down of others. Home doesn't need this.
A last word on the matter of 'craft'. Writing is not an easy business, and one would like to think that one learns, or has learned some things on the way. Most of all it would surely help for the writer to be appreciated for this as a carpenter or stonemason might be. It was good to see that this collection allowed the space for what might be called a conventional short story, Tony White's 'Afternoon Play' but which is as well crafted as a good-fitting door and frame."
(image from the Trawler)