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Journal Preview: Line Zero 2.1

Line Zero
Vol. 2. No. 1
Pink Fish Press, 2011
ISBN 9781453876886

The Skinny
I have my mitts on an advanced proof of Line Zero’s fifth issue (vol. 2, no. 1).  The issue releases on November 22nd, 2011.  In a word: it’s good.  Pre-order quantities are still available for purchase at The Pink Fish Press store.

The Sinew

Line Zero CoverThe editorial and journalistic content is useful for writers everywhere.  Pieces like Nathan Everett’s “Publish or Perish: Organizing the Author Tour” give practical advice on the economics of writing and book promoting, while other pieces delve into elements of craft.  While most of the editorial articles target the writerly community, some pieces are more broadly relatable to different demographics.  Appealing to other readership cliques are book reviews, album reviews, and a reprinting of the Virginia Woolf piece “Professions for Women.”  Line Zero seems somewhat confused as to who its core audience is at times, but most of the content meshes well enough.

The Membrane

I tend to think of the poetry and prose as the guts of a literary magazine, but Line Zero is one of those publications that pairs literature with artwork.  So maybe the artwork is the membrane surrounding the vital organs?  A cheerful image for the artists in the issue to contemplate.  I mean no disrespect from one body part to another.

Unlike some of Line Zero’s contemporaries, the images are relegated to a separate section.  This design a good choice considering Line Zero‘s full page spreads.  By separating the images into their own little area, it doesn’t create flow issues elsewhere.

I have mixed feelings about a few pieces artwork in the issue, but most pieces shine. Sarah Page has a downright outstanding photograph on page 81.  However, her image on page 80 seems under-exposed and lacking compositional direction.

So goes the artistic content as a whole: there are a couple other pieces that seem a little rough, but most are amazing, and I recognize and appreciate the raw artistic effort that went into these more experimental pieces.  As aforementioned, the artwork blends well with the magazine’s design scheme, and it feels at home among the eclectic poetry and fiction of the issue.

The Guts

On to the guts, or perhaps—out of solidarity to Line Zero’s literature contest winner—the bones.

Bryan Berge’s “Ribcage” took the prize this time around.  Over Line Zero’s 180 pages, there are plenty of stories and poems to look at, but I can’t touch on them all in this preview.  Suffice to say, the editors made a good choice in selecting this finalist for the fiction crown.

The single-sentence teaser for this piece might read: a boy with an odd cellular condition has the capability to grow an embryo.  Yes, the main character has some sort of totipotency condition that causes his cells to split and grow into the elements of human life.  But there is more to it than that—the protagonist has his own set of struggles and situational conflicts operating outside of this delightful and bizarre premise.  Hopefully the teaser is enough to hook you, because I am not in the habit of divulging plot points during reviews.

From a craft perspective, “Ribcage” has disjointed ebb to it, but it seems purposeful and works most of the time.  The author has woven snapshots of the character’s life seamlessly into a deliberately fragmented story arc.  As I said, this is a deliberate device, and it works—most of the time.  The flow does break from its cadence occasionally when seemingly important events are only given a quick glance, but then addressed later with royal carpet treatment.  It seems a little incongruent—but only during a small number of sentences—most of the story has a near-perfect flow.

Here’s how Berge’s flow works: there are many scenes where the precursive dialogue builds to only a short description of a larger event.  These short descriptions act like punctuation on the rising action, giving a unique twist on the typical rise, crest, and falling action of a story.  In theory, this is an excellent approach for Berge’s fiction.  But as mentioned, there are a few times when it doesn’t work.  The intense scenes work well as a minimalistic stopping point if the author moves past them, letting the brevity of the situation fuel the infinite possibilities brewing inside in a reader’s head.  Berge achieves this throughout the story, but there are a few minor instances when the prior events are referenced chunkily.  For example, in the case of a minimalistically defined tragedy, a later paragraph recalls the event, discussing “grief.”  Using “grief” as an emotional descriptor only works if the reader has felt the grief.  If the minimalistic closing lines are intended to give way to a deeper visceral response, the author needs to build from description to emotion.  In short, the story sometimes breaks from that beloved adage: show, don’t tell.  Then again, instances of this disruption are negligible.  This is a good story.  And this is a good edition of Line Zero.

When “Ribcage” stumbles, it is only briefly, and only a picky reviewer like yours truly would care.  It is well-written, and it explores new structural ground.  While the syntax is classical, the subject matter is inventive and the narrative arc is interesting.  The story treads new literary ground, for an inviting and thoughtful read.

On the whole, the issue is full of similar well-written pieces of fiction and poetry, and resonating with the level of quality exhibited throughout Line Zero vol. 2, no. 1.  There will likely be one or two small sections that irk you or seem too overtly targeted at the wrong audience, but the bulk of Line Zero is a work of universally applicable art that writers and readers are bound to enjoy.

Review by James R. Gapinski
© 2011, All Rights Reserved