Best of Black Heart 2014
Edited by Laura Roberts, M. Chaistan Flournoy, and Danielle White
Black Heart Books
Reviewed by Chris Schahfer
The Black Heart Review is an internet literary magazine that seems to do a lot: poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction all factor into these collection. However, little of it impressed me. The fiction felt more like stories written by undergrad students than polished, professional work. Lots of second person, lots of clunky phrases like "We were strangers. It shocked me, how suddenly we were" (from "You Were the Girl Who") or "Your history is only one drunk uncle away" (from "Tail"), bizarre conceits like "Relativity's" protagonist, a pig with thumbs and flat Carver-esques such as "For a Crescendo." Some of these stories come out well enough, though. While "Flowers for Mr. Jones" could've used a good deal of polish on the prose level, it's an entertaining-enough story narrated by a witness to a murder, and the melancholy of "Modern Woman" works. Still, you're more likely to get a failed shot at humor like "Abusement Park," where a group of carnies talk about having sex with college girls. Some are interesting conceptually, but I felt like I was reading first drafts of even the better ones, and I found their tendency to end abruptly frustrating.
The poetry was better. "In Taiwan" put me into the moment, and "Beepocalypse" has quite a few nice images despite its absurd title. But then you get wordy works like "A Nocturne," which overuses the sort of baggy modifiers a good poem should discard, or melodrama such as "Old Friend, Butcher, Despot," or poems written with so little concern for rhythm that they might've made better short stories, like "Cathedral" and "October 5th." The creative nonfiction segment was my favorite, showcasing their "literary crushes" series. Here the authors write about their favorite characters in literature. This seems like a fun idea (I could do a great one on why I'm so charmed by Infinite Jest's Michael Pemulis), and has an amusingly breezy tone. Sure, it kicks off with a clunky and obnoxious ode to Tinkerbell's sexuality, but it improves with a reimaging of Lady Macbeth as a karaoke singer and especially a recasting of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest villain Nurse Ratched as a beleaguered hero. The essay's author, Elaina Acosta Ford, shares the fiction writers' tendency to cut off abruptly, but she makes a convincing case for one of pop culture's most despised villains, and against one of its most popular heroes, R.P. McMurphy.
I'm all about the idea of giving new voices some exposure, but I just didn't find these particular voices all that compelling. If you've got biases against the indie and semi-indie publishing industries, this won't do much to get you over them.
Out of 10: 5.1