Squeamish Readers Beware!
The aim of A Cappella Zoo, according to their website, is to create issues that are memorable and unpredictable with “vivid, surprising imagery.” The editors are “interested in exploring perspective, reality, and genre…to challenge the intellect or just to play.”
That being said, I am impressed by the unconventional and multi-layered writing found in the journal’s fifth issue. These experimental stories and poems, perhaps difficult for the reader of standard fiction to wrap her mind around, provide a truly unique reading experience.
Nancy Gold, with her story, “Showtime” offers a moving, if grotesque, tale of a
traveling freak show. Gash, appropriately named, is presented as the most shocking member of the freaky trio. Gold writes, “He doesn’t have much more than a hole for his mouth, and nothing below that. One side of his nose is gone.” The audience, as you’d expect, is sickened by the sight of Gash. It isn’t until he meets and falls in love with the elusive and winged Sarah that Gash discovers a sense of self-respect and inner meaning.
“The Creature from the Lake,” by Hayes Greenwood Moore is an entertaining and quirky story that deals with a couple’s discovery of a siren-like creature in the lake. As it is in Tim’s nature to “save things,” the couple decide to take the heavy-breasted and toeless creature home. When it comes time to release her back into the lake, the creature sings for Tim, the same hypnotic song that attracted him to her in the first place. In the end he must choose between the creature and his girlfriend. While the characters’ circumstances are unusual, there is a common theme of lost love and letting go here that even the most mainstream reader will relate to.
Mike Meginnis’ “The Snake Charmer’s Teeth” is a powerful story in which Fanish, the snake charmer, longs to hear his snake, Vachan’s, “secret voice.” It isn’t until Fanish has eaten all but a third of her body, that Vachan finally speaks.
Meginnis devotes the second half of his story to a girl named Yuktha, who receives the bracelet, which is really the hardened body of Vachan) as an apologetic gift from her sexually abusive father. The two halves of the story come together when Vachan awakens to seek revenge by eating the girl’s father. I am impressed by the writer’s ability to create scenes of chilling tension, especially concerning matters of sexual abuse, which are more often than not, difficult to pull off without going overboard.
In a failed attempt to give a city of people courage, Nicholas, in “The Abandoned City” creates hallucinogenic ice cream flavors that, when ingested, make them see visions so horrible they recall what it means to be brave in the face of war. Despite Nicholas’ conviction that the ice cream will result in the citizens gaining “a means by which to negotiate the horrors of war,” the story concludes with the distressing sight of “children strewn across the ruins.”
After reading this story I wonder why Nicholas believed his peculiar invention would work. Am I wrong in seeking a rational explanation from a magically-realistic story? Perhaps.
One story in particular, though abundant with brilliant descriptions and interesting plot twists, includes an overload of nauseating circumstances. “The Crushing,” by Phillip Neel, takes the cake as far as repulsive details are concerned. A man at an overcrowded DMV sweats profusely, which is an understatement, really, since his perspiration gains volume and momentum enough to form a sea at his feet and “two salty waterfalls cascading from his elbows.”
When Joanne, the DMV clerk, asks if the man is okay, he vomits on her, getting it in her hair and mouth. The man’s uncontrollable vomiting leads to a great flood and the need for people to travel around by homemade ark. Of course, where there is a flood of human waste, there are those compelled to jump into it. If the story was written with the sole purpose of making the reader sick to her stomach, bravo!
With Lisa Grove’s honest and gritty poem, “The Cat and the Fiddle,” the importance of living in the moment is emphasized. Why waste time doing the dishes, as the narrator reflects upon in the first stanza, when “Tomorrow we may be hit by a Chevy./ Our blood may ooze over the plate of pavement… / without the time to even regret not licking the sweet maple of our skin.”