Lenox Avenue, #4, Jan/Feb 2005

Sunday, 03 April 2005 03:22 Ben Payne
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"Natives Hung from a Branch of the Amazon" by Andy Miller
"The Third Song" by Yoon Ha Lee
"Sharksheep Suit" by Vylar Kaftan
"One Night by the Baobob," by K.Z. Perry
"The Heart of Saturday Night" by Adam Browne
"Connie, Maybe" by Paul E. Martens
"Godflesh II: Street Cleaners, Scavengers, and the Law of the Jungle" by John Kiel Alexander

Lenox Ave
is an interesting mix of short and short-short fiction. I often find short-short fiction hard to review, as it’s often very hit-and-miss, and insubstantial. Nevertheless there were a couple of nice pieces here. The longer pieces were well selected for a webzine; both entertaining and not overly-long.

"Natives Hung from a Branch of the Amazon" by Andy Miller depicts the “Last Man” craving release and touches on environmental degradation, but if there was any meaning to it, it eluded this reader.

Yoon Ha Lee’s "The Third Song" is a kind of myth, dealing with how the earth became fertile. The story seemed to suggest that it was humankind’s fertility which inspired nature’s bounty. Again, though, I’m afraid I missed any further significance.

Vylar Kaftan gives us "Sharksheep Suit," delivered in the kind of meandering-stream-of-consciousness-bumpkin-voice that’s becoming popular amongst proponents of New Weird. Said bumpkin breeds sharksheep, and travels to the city in order to participate in an election. His sharksheep suit catches the eye of the politicians, and much chaos ensues. Like a lot of New Weird stuff, it treads a fine line between having a lot to say and saying nothing, if stylishly. That said, I think there were some nice ideas amongst the weirdness here, and I really enjoyed it.

"One Night by the Baobob," by K.Z. Perry, depicts a couple haunted by a strange creature called an Aye-aye, supposedly extinct. Paw Paw and Ma Ditty must confront their fears, and Paw Paw in particular is forced to consider his masculinity and what is expected of him within their society. For me, the intersection of the spiritual and physical conflicts of the plot and the inner conflicts of the central characters never entirely meshed, and this served as more of an entrée to further issues, rather than a fully-fledged piece. Nevertheless, it is a well-written story.

Onto the longer stories: Adam Browne delivers a strong tale, "The Heart of Saturday Night." The opening lines give us warning that this will be another example of Browne’s signature prose. At times the stylishness of Browne’s writing forces the reader to halt, whether they want to or not, and admire the craftsmanship, and often the wit, behind the prose. My favorite: “little cafes made of dust and pictures of the King.” Browne’s writing is rarely invisible. At worst it can be an irritating distraction, at best it can make a page sing.

Unlike the other stories of Browne’s that I’ve read, "The Heart of Saturday Night" quickly takes a dark turn, setting its lush and fruity descriptions amidst prostitution and violence in Bangkok. This surprising shift energizes the story and lends it an added depth, so that the flowery prose becomes bittersweet rather than merely playful. There’s little plot to speak of, little character development, and yet the descriptions are evocative and powerful, and ultimately I found this story very affecting. It’s easily the strongest story by the author that I’ve read, and my favorite story in the issue.

Paul E. Martens’ "Connie, Maybe" provides a welcome, lighthearted interval. It tells of an elderly gentleman in a retirement village (or something similar) who wakes up one morning claiming to have been abducted by aliens. The aliens, he claims, replaced him with an exact copy of himself. As the days pass, however, it emerges that certain aspects of Connie have changed. He does not need to go to the lavatory as often, he can eat chilli, and he even (gasp!) enjoys the odd foreign film.

The suspicions of his friends and neighbors are aroused. Is Connie really an exact copy, and still himself, as he claims, or are there other subtle differences waiting to emerge? As suspicion grows, they start to ask questions about each other; after all, if it could happen to Connie, why not others? There are intelligent notions touched on here regarding consistency and identity, and group suspicion and mob mentality. Ultimately, though, it is a comic story, and one with enough chuckles to keep the reader going.

"Godflesh II: Street Cleaners, Scavengers, and the Law of the Jungle" by John Kiel Alexander is a horror piece, presumably set in the near future, though its resonances are disturbingly contemporary. A journalist is taken by a young homeless man to visit the squat where he and his “tribe” exist. The descriptions of destitution and poverty could easily be drawn from real life, and the story’s denouement, which reveals the horrific rites the tribe partakes in, is not too far removed from contemporary society either.

I wasn’t surprised by the story’s turn, but that didn’t prevent me from enjoying the descriptions. The author shows that he has an ability when it comes to creating a vivid scene. The writing itself occasionally tends toward the overly flowery, which jarred a little with the narrator’s journalistic profession, but this may have been a conscious ploy. In any case, the central character’s reaction to the events he encounters was, to me, the story’s most horrific event. I look forward to seeing more from John Kiel Alexander in the future.

All in all, this was an enjoyable issue of Lenox Ave, particularly the longer stories. I look forward to the next issue.