Pick-Up Trucks and Back Roads: This Lit Mag's a Purty Little Thang
If the name doesn’t give it away, it’s no secret that this mag has a bit of a Western/Blue-collar fetish, the pages bleeding together at times with references to wool, bullets, bruises, raw hamburger, rocking trailers, grandmothers, and motherfuckers. So if that’s you in your flannel shirt hunkering down over your Smith-Corona with a glass of whiskey, you might just want to take aim at this newcomer on the literary journal circuit.
Armchair/Shotgun (A/S) is a small biannual magazine out of Brooklyn, NY. Founded and run by working writers, the journal accepts fiction, non-fiction, poetry, photo essays, and visual media. All submissions are assessed anonymously, as A/S asserts on its website: “Good writing does not know one MFA program from another. It does not know a PhD from a high school dropout…Good writing knows only story.” With three debut writers among the ranks in it’s second issue, A/S is no B.S.
In Marvin Shackelford’s story “The Kill Sign”, the plot orbits around one neighbor’s dog humping another’s. With all of the requisite trailer trash characters playing their parts, the story lacks some originality, but makes up for it with a main character so down on his luck, you can’t help but root for him (especially when he doesn’t take advantage of the opportunity to hump the neighboring dog-owner and stripper “Angel”). “She tastes like something sad and mean…Still, that voice calling me a wimp stays in my head. I’m not even as good as a dog.” With his ‘everyday-man’ epiphanies, he remains severely likeable: “I wonder if I’m just as shitty a person as her or anybody else, think I must be. But I’m feeling good and I don’t much care right now.”
“James Dean, My Love, My Copy Boy” by Sarah Kate Levy, also seems to struggle at times to emerge from an overly-familiar frame – in this case, the ‘circus story’. Growing curves in all of the wrong places, nineteen year-old Mina has become the incongruent piece of “The Sensational Seven” trapeze act directed by her father. When she finds love in a copy shop and tries to teach the boy named James Dean how to fly from a trapeze, her father steps in with a heavy hand. “'All you need to know,' Dad broke in, sounding impatient, 'is move on my hup. Jump, hup, tuck, knees, hup, release hands, fall. Trapeze is hup, hup, hup, hup.'” Emotions suspended in midair make for thrilling tension in this love story, and Levy manages a convincing portrait of a father/daughter relationship set against the circus backdrop. Fans of Sarah Gruen’s “Water for Elephants” will certainly find a new voice to love in Mina.
Jackson Culpepper’s picaresque story “Hammer Lane” takes us on the road with seventeen year-old Wes Spires in his uncle’s “beigey-gold hunk of shit” pickup with a thick wad of his mother’s stolen cash and a pint of Dickel. “Through Vienna he saw an old brick courthouse in the square, sleepy in the morning light, the magnolias. A mural of a train scene lit up on the side of a café, and Wes plowed through yellow lights, drawing scowls from old folks walking to the bank and grocery store like they probably did each and every day.” While Culpepper’s prose flows as effortlessly as the free highway air in through the open window, Wes’s keen contempt for the rest of the world can at times feel like a rock in the reader’s shoe. Everyone is repeatedly described as “half-dead” or “still asleep”; “most of them were old or great big and fat or both”. It’s fun to go along for the ride while the boy goes from petty thief to outlaw, but the plot barely makes it past 60 mph with only a cop poking around to complicate Wes’ journey. I would have liked to see Culpepper up the stakes, giving us more than a lone paragraph on Wes’ background – effectively allowing the reader to feel the gun of the engine in the same way Wes does.
Poetry is interspersed between stories, offset by title pages on city grids and highway maps. “What is it about touch that frees us and freezes us?” asks Kimberly Grey in her poem “Tag”. “What would become of us in this embrace when neither of us are It or free and it keeps getting darker and darker and darker?” Alanna Bailey’s trio of poems included some memorable visages “-a peat bog of that old face” (“Grandmother”) and “the rubied lust of your innards hides behind that plump face: acne worn, pock-marked, weathered as years of sun might do. A pelt casing intrigue uncanny as gardenias or carnage…” (“Pomegranate”). Cecilia Galarraga adds some hometown flavor with “Brooklyn You Can Rob Me But I Will Still Love You”: “People on the street corner shiver like a cabinet of wine glasses”/ Somedays I feel like a fistful of a sand, clenched, about to slip. Sometimes I’m all palms. I surrender to it…”
A visual media excerpt and photo essay lend playful texture and bold color to the A/S landscape. Brooklyn-based visual artist Sono Osato’s work focuses on the intersection of language and topography, incorporating found objects, small bones, and machine parts.