Saturday, 13 June 2020

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McSweeney's: Issue #50   {Reviewed by STELLA}
Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern is always inventive and a surprise package. Literally. The first McSweeney’s Quarterly I came across was a gift — a collection of small books and notelets in a hinged square head.
I’ve been dipping into Issue 50 this week, and thoroughly enjoying it. 50 is a handsome hardback with a dust-wrapper that folds out into a poster and can be refolded into a number of different jacket designs. Like all McSweeney publications, it’s clever. This issue, unlike some others, doesn’t have an overall theme, but it does have a texture. Fresh writing from previously published authors — authors who have had a relationship with the literary journal over its twenty-year history. Founded by Dave Eggers, it’s a platform to introduce new American voices and enable those more established writers to experiment and play. Like many collections its a mixed bag and wonderfully so. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's 'Details', with its letters between two people in an illicit relationship is all small detail and long pauses — the most important clues hidden in the lines of the letters. A jar of bath salts is the catalyst for change. Steven Millhauser’s excellent and immediately recognisable internal dialogue while waiting on the phone for customer service may make you both laugh and cry. “Thank you for calling customer service. All agents are currently assisting other customers. Please stay on the line and your call be answered in the order in which it was received...Your call is very important to us and we appreciate your patience...Please do not hang up and redial, as this will only further delay your call.” There’s a sly and witty cartoon strip by Jesse Jacobs entitled 'New Sport' — this is simply adorable — and Sherman Alexie’s 'Deliver Me' pizza driver slacker story will resonate on so many levels as Jeremy navigates his job, girlfriend and a degree that can’t get him out of the precariat class. There’s a fascinating essay from Kevin Young, 'Ten Commandments: How to Spot a Hoax', that has more teeth than you expect at first glance; and a humorous list of reasons your girlfriend works for the secret service by Haris.S.Durrani. Reason #12: “She tells you not to mumble. “Say your mind,” she says. “Speak like you mean it.” Is she trying to make you incriminate yourself?... Before you realise it, you’ve assumed criminality.” Reason#39: “She gives you a call from college and says she’s changed. She thinks about life differently. You’re not sure what that means. You think she’s defected.” 'Orange Juice' by Kirsten Iskandrian is an ode to parenting small children and the edge of sanity, while Rebecca Curtis’ 'Please Fund Me' sets up the absurdity of privilege in the guise of the desire for a pool boy.
Literary journals and story collections are an excellent way to introduce new authors into your reading pile and to find gems from those you already admire. This collection has pieces from some of my favourites — Sheila Heti, Jonathan Letham, Sarah Manguso and Jesse Ball. If you haven’t come across the delights of McSweeney's Quarterly previously ,we currently have on our shelves Issue 50 and Issue 58 (which is dedicated to climate change). Some others can be ordered — they become collector items quickly due to their inventive and quirky design.

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