Young, Interesting, Sometimes Apocalyptic: Lit Mag Celebrates Long Fiction
The first rule of apt literary journal: do not even think about calling them apartment magazine. Don’t call them A-P-T either. They’re simply apt, the word; all lowercase, synonymous with apropos, befitting, prone, adept. Adeptness is a quality clearly valued by both apt and the writers whose words appear on their pages — the magazine describes itself as a literary journal “featuring challenging writing that combines the cerebral and the visceral,” and the stories apt has selected to fill their fifth print issue are just that.
Founded in 2005, the Boston-based lit journal is part of the nonprofit small press and entertainment company Aforementioned Productions. In 2011 the formerly print-only journal added an online format, where new work is published weekly. The print issue appears just once a year, in January. apt is headed by co-Editors-in-Chief Carissa Halston and Randolph Pfaff, whose masthead bios note a number of publishing credits, literary grants and awards, and in-progress manuscripts. Assistant editors, Molly M. McLaughlin and Ruth Elizabeth Morris, round out the journal’s humble staff of four.
apt’s fiction is as long as the title of their journal is short. A mere five stories comprise their fifth print issue, which still racks up 194 pages of text. Halston apologizes for the magazine’s long form fiction in the opening Editor’s Note, (although the cover of the journal reads, in alternating red and blue text: “Life Is Short Fiction Is Long Long Live Long Fiction,” so if you didn’t know what you were getting, that’s on you) explaining that the stories selected for publication simply have no condensed versions. I tend to agree — these stories are long, but their language is spare, with no word wasted. The disorderly plots need the space to sort themselves out; or to conclude in an even more thought-provokingly entangled manner than they began.
The writers’ voices felt young, interesting, sometimes apocalyptic, and a little daring. Each writer’s bio boasts a completed or in-progress MFA, and almost all list previous publishing credits. They come from Maryland and California, Texas and Alabama — which is to say, for a magazine with so few contributors per issue, apt is regionally well-represented.
In terms of form and structure the writing is experimental in a way that I would say is perhaps mild. This experimentalism expresses itself though short choppy sentences, punctuated by long meandering ones; dialogue that is unpunctuated and not delineated; and page breaks headed by titles of songs, or the number of beers a narrator has consumed. It’s experimental with intent, a restrained experimentalism that doesn’t sacrifice plot in favor of a lot of attention-diverting structural gymnastics.
In terms of plot, the writing is a bit more daring. The connective tissues running through this collection seem to be each story’s exploration of emotional distance versus physical collision. From the near-deadly bus crash in Kendra Fortmeyer’s “The Exposed Nest” to the murderous beginnings of Matt Jones’ “The Kissy-Faced Cha Cha,” each of these stories deal with characters whose emotional disconnects from one another are violently disrupted by a physical clash. Time is often ambiguous or non-linear.
In Colleen Cable’s “The Farmhand” past and present exist simultaneously within the confines of a silent movie house; and the events in William Hillyard’s “Liberty Bonds” appear to be constructed in a chronological circle. The characters in Elizabeth Chandler’s “Evergreen” — by far the most haunting story in the journal — have spent an uncertain amount of time (five years, seven, ten?) hiding from an apocalypse that may have never come.
Each of the stories in apt are character-driven. Jones’ sexually-starved sisters are so desperate for physical attention that they allow crows and spiders to pinch their flesh; Chandler’s mother and children who have reentered a world that may have forgotten of their existence entirely; Fortmeyer’s nameless, voiceless refugee, for whom death is better than an anonymous life. They are all vividly executed characters who will continue to haunt you long after their stories have ended. They are also appealingly human. In “Liberty Bonds” Alyssa works as a Statue of Liberty outside a bail bonds store, Daniel is a sign twirler for Chicken & Waffles. In “The Exposed Nest” eight-year-old Mitchell is thrilled his academic father has gotten a job as a bus driver, because none of his school friends know what an “academic” is. In apocalyptic “Evergreen” Estelle wonders if “If every man had a cave somewhere with ten years of food” — a line that made me laugh out loud in the way that I’d imagine you would when you discover yourself at the end of the world, and men are still utterly incomprehensible.
With all that said, in my opinion five stories is too few — perhaps a petty critique, I know. Although supplemented by the online edition, for a journal that has purposed to give a space to a genre that isn’t always welcome in all literary journals (that is: uniquely long fiction) I would hope that at some point in future print issues space is made for more pieces; especially with a once-a-year-only printing. With five stories I found just as I was starting to fully grasp the tone of apt, and discovering the connective tissues that brought each of these stories to the same collection, the journal ended.
You must love long form fiction to submit to apt. It’s clear the editors, and your prospective fellow writers, want much more than a fictional tale that ran a little long. In apt, the length of each story has function — the slow building of action and intimate acquainting with character are essential to the sense of dislocation you’ll feel as a reader once the story has ended. Because the experience of reading apt is cerebral, it is visceral, and you will live inside these stories, if but for no more than a long moment.