Since 2007, the literary website Joyland has published exclusively in electronic forms, featuring short fiction on its website and printing e-books with ECW Press. Now, the site has stepped back in time and is publishing on paper. In case you missed that, creators Emily Schultz and Brian Joseph Davis (both former editors of Broken Pencil) have labeled the series Retro and inside we get the greatest hits of Joyland’s online enterprise.
Retro Vol. 1 shows the range within the online literary mag’s grungy fiction. “I’m Sorry and Thank You” by Andrew Hood is the first to stand out, with its brief look through the eyes of a man watching a stranger change her baby’s diaper on his front lawn. Through crass images of baby shit, we get the viewpoint of the narrator at the childless end of a divorce. In “Skin” by Kevin Wilson, two couples flirt with the limits of their marriages, while their kids play upstairs. The story pushes those boundaries without relying on easy shock value. Another story follows a man’s pregnancy, while “A Craigslist Ad for a Mindblowing Self-Actualization Party” delivers on its title. My favourite piece, however, is from the San Francisco writer Erica Lorraine Scheidt’s “Something More.” The opening line “Avery was a rapist,” cranks the tension immediately, but then the pace keeps on in a gentle prose befitting the tale of a florist and love gone wrong.
A shortcoming of Retro is that it puts its weaker stories upfront. “For the Benefit of Others” by Roxane Gay introduces us to a woman who frequents high-class charity events and makes obvious complaints about that world’s shallow pretensions. Plus, the collection has no introduction, so the reader has no starting point for why these stories are lumped together in the first installment. Once these initial missteps are overcome, we hear from a series of bold new voices in short fiction. And that printed copy will start to crease at the spine as you make your way in. (Colin Brush)
edited by Emily Schultz and Brian Joseph Davis, 84 pgs, Joyland, joylandmagazine.com, $10.95