Nemonymous: a journal of parthenogenetic fiction and late labelling
edited anonymously by
(See www.nemonymous.com for all pricing and distribution details; landscape format paperback; 96 pages; May 2002.)
So the second appearance of D.F. Lewis's ambitious Nemonymous project is upon us, and this is a good thing. A beautifully produced, sleek and shiny new magazine ofshort stories: a good thing. And the stories appear with no author's name noted: a brave thing.
But it all seems to work: a democracy of prose. We are in the paradoxical positions of being closer and further away from the writing. It's a pleasantly strange experience. We understand that an author's name (and photograph) act as a shield or as a flash of garter belt, depending on the author. We've read a story by Author A before, and disliked it. Here's another one by the same, and so we'll either avoid it or read the first three paragraphs, confirm our negative opinions, and then lay into the swine for evermore. Or the converse might be true, of course. The point is, with Nemonymous there is no assumed stock of knowledge; the authors' names and information will be revealed in the next issue.
Virgin territory, then; let's step ashore. "Climbing the Tallest Tree in the World" is an excellent tale with a very unusual quest. If it does not always manage to evade cliché ("The stars did not grow brighter in the celestial dome"), it is a wonderful opening story, with the shifts in reality of the characters who are climbing (who incidentally have been climbing so long that they "can't remember if [they] were students or professors") convincingly done. The story should also be applauded for the effective way that the author has suggested a lot of time having passed, but has needed only three pages to do so.
Another highlight is "The Vanishing Life and Films of Emmanuel Escobada". Presented as a non-fiction piece -- an article, a thesis -- on an underrated South American writer and filmmaker, this is an extremely clever and funny postmodern trick. It reminded me a little of Borges. We have a hagiographer dreaming a director back out of obscurity, using all that he has -- enthusiastic words of praise. We have the (figurative) battle between obscurity and fame, ironically in a magazine, of course, that insists on an artist's obscurity, if only temporarily. A fresh way of looking at fiction, this is very good work indeed.
Also admired were "Berenice's Journal" (in which a lonely woman diaries the moving-in of another tenant to the block; unfortunately, she is nosey, possessive, perfectly jealous of the man's girlfriend, and possibly worse), and "Buffet Freud" (a garlicky vignette of a patient's manipulation of her doctor). "The Secret" is fresh and funny -- I laughed out loud at the idea of fashion statements in a fantasy setting. "Muura," the wizard asks, "what is the meaning of this -- coiffure?" The assistant's response is: "Everybody's wearing their hair like this." You can take the fantasy out of fashion, but you can't take the fashion out of fantasy, it seems! This story, while surely qualifying as an example of bathos, might also be a toney way of getting the author's personal opinions across via the conversation between the two interlocutors. And on a personal level of my own, I was intrigued by the mention of Rainbow Man. Is the author a Pogues fan? As for "Four Minutes Thirty-Three Seconds" (five pages of nothingness, emptiness) -- I thought it was a printing mistake or a joke. I couldn't decide which. If "author" is the right word to use in context, it turns out the author is paying homage to a piece of non-music by John Cage. But if I hadn't learned that, I would have been noodling on the piece's inclusion for some time, I believe. "Striped Pajamas" is short, obsessive, powerful, effective.
Nemonymous has eighteen stories this time around. There were only two that I felt required extra work. In "Mighty Fine Days" I lost interest before the end, despite there being a good central idea; and "The Assistant to Dr Jacob", again, has a good idea, but it's been stranded in mudpools of strained, stodgy, inadequate prose, and unrealistic dialogue. For example, this is a serving police officer speaking: "He still lived at the Danbury residence, from which you would know him." But this is being nitpicky, perhaps; the stories simply didn't work for me. I would urge anyone to seek out this volume and form an opinion of your own.
Reading any magazine of fiction is like reading the smoke signals that are emerging from the editor's head. You get a very good feel for what makes him tick, or (less charitably, I'm afraid) what he believes to be saleable. If the magazine features a good percentage of stories involving spaceships, then we might assume that the editor enjoys spaceship stories. But I can only conclude, from the frenetically diverse array of stories in Nemonymous, that Lewis is the editorial equivalent of a variety show juggler. Here's the ball, here's the loaf of bread, here's the chainsaw. You don't want to see it all crash to the ground; you admire the dexterity; you wish him well. Throughout the reading I was reminded of a short protest in Luigi Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author. Something about it seemed apt.
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© David Mathew 14 September 2002