-Reviewed by Diane Tingley–
Literary Juice is a bi-monthly online magazine, its blurb states that it is dedicated to extracting “100% originality from its writers.” This is a bold statement. Indeed I find much to like in the approach of the small editorial team – but why do I also get the nagging feeling that someone is trying to squeeze a square peg into a hole?
The positive includes the admirable home page. It has an effective black and white design that does not lack in beauty. Another plus is the user friendly links to professional-looking About, Submissions and Contact pages, with an arty splash of ink (the literary juice?) in the top left hand corner (surfer zoom territory) repeated on every subsequent page of the magazine, as are interesting quotes about writing; all suggest a well thought out concept.
Niceness of the staff comes across in the about page: “all submissions will be strongly considered” – but, and this is where the issues begin: “this could take 1-3 months”. In what can be chilly wastes of cyber space, that’s a long time; could they not go the way of successful literary magazine The Fleeting, who promise to get back to successful submissions within a few days? I suspect that the magazine staff are squeezed for time; why else would this online magazine only be updated every two months?
The second problem is, unfortunately, an example of the first. As though the editorial staff were busy on other tasks, there is a disparity between the submissions guidelines and what is actually published. Again I draw a negative comparison with The Fleeting, who quite rightly state sexism is a no no (in the interview with the editor accessible from their home page). In Literary Juice, the admirably stated: ‘We are NOT looking at stories with intense sexual content. You do not have to be vulgar to be talented’ is somehow completely undermined by the first of the short fictions in the June/July edition (current when this review was written).
Mess, by Billy Coté, is the most stunning example of feminist back lash I have read – and no, it isn’t sufficiently well-written to qualify as irony. The internal monologue of the first person narrator is just embarrassingly obvious about the abusive feelings the writer harbours toward women in general; which he personifies in the main character (presumably the honorary Mess). Experience must come before writing and tellingly, the narrator struggles to converse when “a woman walks into a bar”. The characterisation techniques of the writer struggle to name this female as anything but mute (‘Drunk-y’) sex object. For example:
‘Wish she would shut -up about all this. In need of respite I glance back at her rear, and notice it’s retained its shape, its roundness, even though its breadth has increased greatly from even a year ago’
Even that’s the least of it. The whole story is even plotted to exploit the oft’ told women’s fear of getting fat. His musings tell it how it is (not) by escalating fat clichés: “she traps me in a clumsy embrace and I feel how big she’s become, her bra digging into the flesh on her back”. The denouement is the writer’s thrill at seeing her – so inebriated, she cannot keep her elbows together on the bar- having sex with a random stranger, in sight of all, the narrator has spent a while watching the stranger “knead” the aforementioned posterior. All is painfully badly related.
With submissions like that I can almost forgive the lack of editorial enthusiasm which suggests itself in the poetry pages; the disproportionately big picture of a tree on this page, with two words: ‘poet tree’ either side, poses the question whether this department is not exactly top of the to do list. The poet in me does feel slighted, particularly as the submission guidelines stipulate only poems of fewer than twenty lines will be considered; which is a little short. This is a shame, because there are some grittily inspired poems here: Virgine Colline’s The Predator, three stanzas of Haiku about men in bars; Ben Reinhardt’s Paper Girl; and Benjamin Nash’s The Transfer which interrogates the concept of death row.
Despite the issues mentioned, it is not difficult to report back with a big positive. Upon my initial flick through the site, I sensed a good deal of creative energy being squeezed in the direction of Pulp Fiction. I hadn’t previously heard of the genre and was delighted upon googling, to discover that it is rooted in post first world war entertainment beloved of nose-to-the-grindstone American masses. These were racy, exciting storytelling magazines; cheap because of the “pulp” on which they were printed; and the poor wages for the writers; but (of necessity) exciting and covetously designed. In honour of this tradition, the link to that page brings you to a part of the site more lovingly than even the most lovingly designed of all the other pages, and guess what? All work published here is fresh, alive: a really enjoyable read – little snippets of existence which send the imagination to flight.
I know the direction I would take this magazine in were I the editor; the parts I would develop, and those I would leave in someone else’s peg bag – there are good skills here, humility and likeability in spades, definitely foundations to string a line from.