-Reviewed by Nick Murray-
“That’s like the time – I know this guy – and this one time…” It’s a line we all knew so well to expect
around the dinner table, or at the pub, or halfway through a film. Tom is that friend of mine (that
friend that we all have in one form or another) who always knows a guy who did that thing. The
stories get more and more far-fetched the longer you let him run with them, and it is clear pretty
early on that they are going to be a little out of the ordinary. At first, we would cut him short.
Bawdy retorts and adages about Pinocchio’s olfactory prowess, but soon we came to accept these
outlandish tales and then to want them. The thing is, it’s never a lie with Tom. He looks like he
genuinely believes it, and very well may do, but with a healthy and slightly untethered imagination
his flair for embellishment takes over and what started as an anecdote becomes a beautifully wild
sprint through a circus mirror of life. Who wouldn’t want that in an otherwise fairly routine day?
Reading The Golden Key #2 you find yourself in a similar place. The journal is inspired by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s story of the same name. A fable of sorts, but instead of a neat moral, it intimates the need for curiosity; that there may just be a little more that you haven’t yet seen. Published biannually, The Golden Key focuses on speculative fiction with a fantastical leaning. Each issue has a theme, this one being ‘old things’, and the editors clearly have an astute eye for good work in keeping with their guidelines. There are, of course stand-out pieces, but on the whole the writing is of a high calibre. Concentrating on the journal as a whole, it is charming in its layout and typesetting, which is a difficult thing to get right with online publications. Throughout reading, the phrase “Damn, that’s a great font” pops into the head. Each piece has an accompanying illustration from resident illustrator Libby Burns, whose line drawings feel considered and never overwrought. The stories and poems are deftly curated, starting with ‘Tupperware Forever’ (Jane Hertenstein) which gives a melancholic snapshot of a childhood surrounded by the ever increasing kitchen equipment of a mother trying to sell from home. It’s clever, but not too out there, giving the reader a gentle warm-up before plunging into the weirder pieces in the collection. The Golden Key would be ideal for anyone who has been trying to their friends to read something a little off the beaten path, but doesn’t want to scare them off.
The high point of the journal is Elson Meehan’s ‘The Swan’. In the bleak reality of cinder block housing and hushed alcoholism, two siblings find a swan that, even after its death, sends ruptures through their house. Meehan’s gift for narrative is unparalleled within The Golden Key #2 and it’s certainly worth downloading (for free or donation) for ‘The Swan’ alone. Also of note is ‘Kinda Big With the Ghost Back Home’ by Dustin Parsons. A poem about death (to give it a hugely reductive description) in which ghost try so desperately to cling to any kind of significance they can. This poem illustrates one of the over-arching motifs of The Golden Key #2. By being about ‘old things’ much of the work within is concerned with memory and the ephemeral nature of remembering. Having such a specific theme could lead the writing to feel samey, but this time it is quite the opposite. The stories and poems create a varied and never overly sentimental landscape of loss and remembrance.