Thursday, September 22, 2005

What's Lady Churchill Got On Her Wrist?

Printed in a low-cost zine-style, lit mags like Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet #16 are probably often passed over by people in shops. The cover’s a simple, 2 color thing with a cartoony set of illustrations. Inside, the type is small and running down two columns with narrow margins. If a piece ends mid-way down the page another one, even if it’s by a different author, starts right up. Well, I’m here to tell you that at $5 a copy, it’s well worth picking up if you’re lucky enough to run across it. I freely confess that I picked it up a few weeks ago because

a) it’s cheap
b) Kelly Link has connections to it
c) it’s cheap

Because of Link’s connection to LCRW (I think she’s edited for them before, but she’s listed now as “outtern”) I expected it to be a mag focused on fantasy and s/f stories. Character driven fantasy and s/f, but still coming out of those genres nonetheless. While some pieces do contain small fantastical elements these are primarily mainstream pieces, but very quirky ones. The full length stories feel like something that might appear in Conjunctions, although without a lot of the postmodern baggage. Likewise, the short-shorts remind me of the odd material you find on McSweeney’s Online, although these are better crafted than most of those at McSweeney's.

Eric Gregory’s “You and I in the Year 2012” is a great example of what I mean. It’s a first person narrative about Jeff, a man trapped within the general malaise and boredom of his own life. He’s not depressed exactly; just a bit dissatisfied with his current existence. One day he receives an unsigned letter in his mailbox claiming all life on earth will end in the year 2012 when a giant asteroid strikes the planet. With connections to the Mayan calendar and other goofy conspiracy theory plots, this is all treated in a light, farcical manner. While Jeff only half believes the letter, it works as in impetus, pushing him to examine his life. I won’t give away the ending, who the letter came from is a big mystery that would be evil of me to reveal, but I will tell you that Jeff makes some changes in his life and leads us to an ending that connects wonderfully to the rest of the text.

The other piece I really enjoyed is the least fantastical. Sean Melican’s “Gears Grind Down” is a fabulous portrait of Henry Vick, a simple farm man with an incredible gift for all things mechanical. His gift lands him an appointment to the big city college, and while he’s hesitant to attend, he goes to satisfy his mother. He finds himself overwhelmed, both by living in the confusing big city and by the content of the classes. His academic abilities aren’t the best, but he struggles through and improves as the story develops. Isolated because of his differences from the other students, Henry finds solace within a non-working clock tower on the college campus. He sets out to repair the giant timepiece, and Melican’s writing of these scenes is downright magical. My only complaint about the piece is that it was difficult to nail down the setting. I wasn't clued in right away that the tale is set in pre-industrial times, and even now I'm not sure exactly when or where it took place. But this is a small complaint. Thoughtful and subtle, Melican's created a simple story that’s quite memorable.

Highly recommended, this little zine packs it in tight with a number of wonderful, professionally-wrought stories. I may even be adding this to my subscription list.


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