Joyland: Malla’s Internet and Meno’s Ghost
I just discovered Joyland, a short fiction magazine with an interesting partition: they’ve splintered the magazine into cities, and each city has its own editor and manages its own submissions (submissions must come from people who’ve lived in the city, but the stories don’t need to be set in the city). It’s an interesting concept.
Well, on my first promenade through Joyland, I chanced upon two authors I’ve commented on before: I had liked Pasha Malla’s story “Monsters,” on Zoetrope Summer 2009, and I had enjoyed Joe Meno’s One Story piece, “Children are the Only Ones who Blush.”
On Joyland, I first read the story by Pasha Malla called “The Other Internet.” I didn’t like this one nearly as much as “Monsters.” It’s an interesting thought about a free and communal Internet, spread thin through 16 paragraphs, without any characters or actions. (I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s not a story because it lacks such things.) It reminded me of Vonnegut’s brilliant description of a war movie shown backward, but Malla’s account lacked the wit and intense critique of Vonnegut’s pages. The next-to-last paragraph in Malla’s story becomes suddenly sexual, and it seemed like a way to create a facile high note for readers as they approached the end of the story (and thus their final impression of it). While the “chafing palms” detail seemed cleverly slipped in, the bit about the “the most rapturous, sheet-ripping orgasms anyone has ever had in their life, including the ferociously perverse” registers differently from the rest of the piece.
I also read Joe Meno’s “Frances the Ghost.” It’s a story about a mother (Janet) whose life is roiled by her husband’s (Mickey) departure to military duty in Iraq. Janet and Mickey have two children: Frances (about eight years old) and a baby. Janet is a nurse, and she keeps her day job by leaving her baby with her mother while she’s on duty; Frances stays at her grandmother’s house after school. Frances has a hearing problem, for which she doesn’t want to wear a hearing aid. She gets in trouble at school often, particularly for being violent to her peers. Frances and Janet fantasize about Mickey’s return. Janet writes him imaginary letters, for instance. She is growing desperate without him; she’s on the verge of cheating (there’s a 35-year old veteran she likes) and on the verge of giving up. Frances has coping problems of her own: she wears a blanket with openings for her eyes in order to hide from everyone at school (hence the title of the story). The story follows Frances and Janet through what seems like a normal day (perhaps being stung by bees isn’t that common for Frances, but taking pot breaks during work does seem normal for Janet).
The narrative is jumpy. The narrator sometimes follows Janet’s thoughts, sometimes Frances’s. The story even switches to a small section in the second person, addressed to a kid passing by Frances, while she’s sitting on her grandmother’s front porch. The action jumps from one setting to another and from one character to another, and it even skips ahead in time. There are descriptions that could’ve been fine-tuned. Take this sentence: “A hundred bumblebees, excited by the prospect of so many melting sweets, hang above the ice cream truck in a glittering cloud.” The “excited” clause in the middle seems out of place: was it really necessary to make the bumblebees’ intentions explicit, or would we have been better served by just saying they buzzed over the spilt ice cream (obviously excited)? I don’t think this story topped the previous piece by Meno I had described (I missed the humor, for one), but it was a good read anyway.