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Outside Recommendations

Short Story Recommendation, Week of May 5/3/20

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 this new series of blog posts highlighting quality or exceptional work found in other’s literary magazines.

Redundancy by Jeff Fleischer (Glassworks Literary Magazine)

This week I recommend the short story Redundancy by Chicago-based author Jeff Fleischer. The story can be found in the spring issue of Glassworks, which is the literary magazine for New Jersey’s Rowan University Master of Arts program. I am a New Jersey resident and my wife received her school psychology degree from Rowan University, but I assure you none of that has anything to do with this recommendation. I’m recommending you check out Redundancy because it’s simply a well-constructed story filled with nuance, humor, and charm.

The plot of Redundancy concerns a young woman named Ms. Maplewood who is new to her job. Following a merger and buy-out she has been assigned by corporate (a London-based company) to perform an employee audit for a newspaper company (located in Northern England) to determine which employees are redundant. In this modern world we’re all feeling a bit redundant, of course, but this story is not so much about the employer and employee dynamic.

You see, while she is auditing the company, Ms. Maplewood learns that the archivist department  employs a Charles Finnegan, and more surprisingly, Mr. Finnegan’s imaginary friend, Hartwin. Here Fleischer prunes the material in many ways I did not expect, and though I do not wish to spoil the ending, I must note that I appreciated that Redundancy ultimately covers terrain that is both logical and unexpected.

Perhaps Hartwin represents not only childhood, but the inherent dream every artist has of being heard—for your material, often so very real in your own mind, to captivate the imagination of others.  Charles Finnegan is a thirty-something dreamer, a book-lover trapped in a somnambulant existence of cataloging materials. His job can easily be replicated by technology and requires little or no imagination.

Yet, in his youth Charles is described as an omnivorous reader, and as an adult he dreams of writing a book (modest though it may be). Perhaps the vital question is not why does a seemingly otherwise normal adult such as Charles need a Hartwin, but how is it that more of us do not.

Fleischer’s work is deeply comical, although in a subtle way.  There is pain to the punchlines and some darkly comedic asides, yet overall the story is told in a straightforward manner similar to early Kafka.

Kafka’s Gregor Samsa awoke one day to realize he had turned into a giant bug, Charles Finnegan has always had an imaginary friend, and they are both doing what they can to survive the unique nature of their own reality. Only Charles is more alike to Kafka’s “Red Peter,” in A Report to the Academy, as he has learned to adapt and bend his unique nature to still fit (for the most part) into society. Fleischer’s work also seems to wink at the Jimmy Stewart film Harvey without being derivative.

Fleischer’s characters are well-rounded–even Ms. Goodwin, who is charged with the potentially ignoble role of requesting termination of hard-working people (or even imaginary friends).

For all these reasons and more my short story pick of the week is Redundancy by Jeff Fleischer.  It’s the most fun you’ll have with an imaginary friend this side of Calvin and Hobbes.

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