Outside Recommendations

Short Story Recommendation Week of 5/10/20

Oscilloscope’s primary mission is to increase the readership of literary short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and visual art. At the present moment, too many talented creatives go underpaid, unpaid, or underappreciated due to an oversaturation of work versus the readership base.

In reality, the problem is a quite limited readership base in an age of endless entertainment (or Infinite Jest, as David Foster Wallace deemed it). Although the life of the creative has never been easy (Melville’s Moby Dick did initially go out of print after a few years, after all), people tend to enjoy art when they make time for it.

We’re going to work on this issue internally, of course. To promote Oscilloscope and aim to develop a dedicated readership base. We will do so by paying our writers and creatives (and hopefully we can increase the remuneration in the future), by providing feedback to submissions as often as possible so as to provide some context and helpful hints for improvement (we are writers ourselves, after all and know how empty the void of submission often feels), and to also attempt to work this problem externally; to highlight literary magazines and works outside of Oscilloscope Lit.

The above is a somewhat rambling way to introduce the second in this new series of blog posts highlighting quality or exceptional work found in other’s literary magazines.

The Air Between Us by Kathleen Boland (Gulf Coast)

This week we are highlighting the short story The Air Between Us in Gulf Coast: A Journal of Literature and Fine Arts. The author of the Air Between Us is the very talented Kathleen Boland, who apparently hails from Portland Oregon. (which would make me jealous were we still allowed to venture outside.)

As a new literary magazine one of the questions we have received is “what kind of work are you looking for?” Although we have a sufficiently opaque and enigmatic about page hinting about the type of work we are seeking, you can also just skip that and go read The Air Between Us to see where our sensibilities truly lie.

As a writer and editor I prefer a dark sense of humor strained through a distorted detritus of the surreal or absurd (but never both simultaneously, mind you). Boland’s work utilizes absurdist elements about as effectively as an author can this side of early Camus.

(spoiler alerts)

The Air Between Us focuses on one unnamed family. The main players are “brother,” “sister,” “father,” and “mother,” but this is no Berenstein Bears.

Each family member is in a different state of distress, and they are so self-involved with their own personal worries, so unable to communicate with one another, that they fail to notice a giant cloud is forming in their home. (aside – the cloud metaphor is not as heavy-handed as I just made it seem in the work itself.)

The brother has just been dumped, which also involves the breaking of his nose if not his heart. The twenty-something sister has lost her job and apartment and is preparing to move back home.

The father (and this is my favorite as a hypochondriac who must block WebMD to maintain a modicum of sanity) is convinced he is dying of bubonic plague but is really suffering from reactions to bed bug bites, and the mother is seeking an affair while also suddenly becoming interested in cetology, which all seems almost pedestrian compared to the recent events of her fellow family members.

Later the cloud will storm and roil, but I won’t give away any more of the secrets of the work or its ending. This short story is completely original yet contains some of the elements I love in works like Don Delillo’s White Noise; although this is a very different type of “Toxic Airborne Event.”

In these modern times we are often so busy, so fragmented, that it’s hard to feel even basic empathy for others. We know the environment is in danger but how can we worry about that when we’re being pulled apart and pixelated by the very nature of our existences? In these strange, somewhat apocalyptic times of the Coronavirus, the essence of such pluralistic tendencies redound in us as we read the news online, watch news channels, or huddle close to our Kindle’s reading the latest New Yorker. That this short story was written before the onset of Coronavirus shows that it’s a work both ahead of and of its time.

Just go read it, really. It’s great fun and a nearly flawless example of the form. (which does make me kind of jealous, even in this apocalypse!)

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