Various Authors is the first issue of a new literary journal from The Fiction Desk. It will be appearing quarterly in paperback and Kindle formats.
The authors of the dozen stories in this debut volume do not include any household names, but several can boast respectable track records, with novels or short story collections already in print. This is serious stuff: literary fiction of a high calibre, the contributors not genre writers but artists of the pen. (Though is there any reason why a genre writer shouldn't be an artist too?)
Interesting to see what the themes of literary fiction are nowadays. In spite of the editor's claim (in the Fiction Desk blog) to have laughed out loud at How to Fall in Love with an Air Hostess by Harvey Marcus, there are not many deliberate attempts at humour here. Marcus's story, though wryly told, is actually concerned with missed opportunities and the failure to make connections. The only piece to make me laugh (but it did - yes, out loud, I confess) was Rex by Jon Wallace. This is about a woman who brings home a stray dog. To her husband it is clearly a man in a home-made fancy dress costume. (Rex is the husband, by the way - the "dog's" name is William.) Celia and Harold by Patrick Whittaker plays with a whimsical idea - a Midwich Cuckoos village in which all the lovers morph into identical couples - but the author doesn't quite know where to take it.
No, serious writing is about serious issues. Characters are poor or old or young or alone, or three out of the four. Families are dysfunctional. I don't think this has anything to do with this particular collection or its editors; that's the way it is. Shabby for literary writers is real. Maybe it's a Brit thing. The three stories that stand out here all have overseas settings and two of them are written by Americans. All I Want by Charles Lambert is about English teachers spending an uneasy weekend with an Italian family by Lake Garda, and is stiff with unspoken feeling. Nativity by Adrian Stumpp addresses the rarely described anguish of fatherhood. Topping the lot for me is Dave Tough's Luck by Matthew Licht. This occupies familiar Licht territory in 1970s New York, but transcends the grubbiness and slease with a poignant account of an idiot savant drummer who can reproduce all the riffs of the jazz and rock greats but never create a thing himself.
An impressive start, I'll look out for the next issue. One last thought, though: only one female contributor. Were there really so few good submissions from women?