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Call for Short Story Editor!

Coffin Bell is seeking a third short story editor. Read 10-15 short stories per week, and vote yes or no for first round. Ideal candidate will be familiar with Coffin Bell‘s aesthetic and past publications, and be a reader and / or writer of dark literature. To apply, please send your resume / CV with relevant experience to coffinbelljournal@gmail.com along with a paragraph including your favorite Coffin Bell short story and why you think you’d be a great fit. Please use “APPLICATION: SHORT STORY EDITOR” for the subject line. This is an unpaid, volunteer appointment. We are accepting applications until November 14, 2020.

Book Review: The Gatsby Affair by Kendall Taylor

Gatsby
Reviewed by Aaron Sommers

The Gatsby Affair: Scott, Zelda, and the Betrayal that Shaped an American Classic

 

by Kendall Taylor

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (August 8, 2018)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1538104938

 

“I’m rarely wrong in matters of narration, “ -F. Scott Fitzgerald in 1936.

Fitzgerald’s self-assessment is both generous and accurate. But despite a meteoric debut novel and a prodigious volume of short stories, his torrid personal life continues to fascinate the American public as much as—and in some cases, more than—his fiction ever did.

His courtship and marriage to Zelda Sayre in 1920, the year the manuscript of This Side of Paradise was accepted for publication, has been well-documented by scholars and gossip columnists alike. The couple’s private struggles became public fodder during the Jazz Age, and their subsequent descent into ruin has been a treasure trove for academics, readers and commentators since Fitzgerald’s untimely death in 1941.

 Fulbright scholar and cultural historian Kimball Taylor judiciously pours through a variety of letters, stories and interviews in The Gatsby Affair, but she avoids any unnecessary commentary. Her interest here is clear: the 1924, when the Fitzgerald’s sojourned to the French Riviera. Upon their arrival in June, the author secludes himself and adheres to a strict writing schedule, toiling on his then-untitled novel, forbidding any interruptions or—per his policy—sexual intercourse. The two initially quarrel over the arrangements, but Zelda gradually respects the conditions necessary for her husbands’ work. Still, the arrangement proves lonely for her. Perpetually restless and curious, she explores the seaside, practices her French in local bistros during the day, and dances in the casinos at night.

Enter a French aviator named Eduardo Jozan, a man Kimball describes as, “square-jawed, athletic and muscular,” who catches the eye of Zelda. The two strike up a friendship and meet regularly in public.  Rumors swirl and accusations fly until the Fitzgeralds pack up and leave for New York City at the end of the summer. The friendship—be it platonic, romantic or otherwise—was certainly a source of tension for Fitzgerald, and whether or not it is consummated is a question dwarfed by the enormity of his jealousy and doubt.

 It’s easy for us to see parallels between Gatsby’s Tom Buchanan and the real-life Jozan. Both oozed machismo—a trait Fitzgerald found fascinating and repellant—and both were uneducated opportunists. They stood as direct contrasts to the fragile, sensitive, poetic disposition Fitzgerald embodied and—at varying times in his life—often resented. 

Kimball makes a good case for the tension this episode placed on an already strained marriage. Zelda is at once enchanting, intense and domineering, while her husband is forever mercurial and distant. Fueled by alcohol and a need for attention, the couples exploits are well-known, however,  little is made of the fact that ten years later, the two not only remained married, but profounder in love.

Fitzgerald’s quote above pertains to a story Zelda sent him during her stay at a psychiatric hospital (from Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald). Although deep in debt, alone and unwell, Scott read her work closely and provided honest feedback.

Kimball hints at, but never explicitly acknowledges any infidelity. In all likelihood, while Zelda found a valued confidante during her husband’s long working hours, his lack of artistic sensibility made any deeper connection unlikely. Likewise, Scott’s relationship with Sheila Graham—the young columnist he met in Hollywood in 1939—wasn’t surreptitious nor salacious, but timely.

There were no secrets between the Fitzgeralds. Between a man of letters and a woman who spoke her mind, they left no room for them. With that in mind, The Gatsby Affair provides an insightful and eminently readable account of this sliver of time in their fractured lives.

***

Aaron Sommers is a writer and teacher. His short stories have been published by The Emerson Review, Berkeley Fiction Review and The Olive Tree Review, among others. You can read more about him over at www.aaronsommers.com or follow him via Twitter (if that’s your thing) @aaronsommers. He lives in New Hampshire, with his wife and two daughters, in a house set deep in the woods and on the more inaccessible side of a mountain.

Submissions now open for “Mythopoeia,” Issue 3.4

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Submissions open May 28, 2020 for Volume 3, Issue No. 4, themed “Mythopoeia,” and close at 12AM EST on August 1, 2020.

Joseph Campbell noted that modern society has outgrown the classical myths, and that new myths must be created. However, Campbell also asserted that modern society is changing too rapidly to be completely described by one overarching mythology, and therefore today’s myths must be created at a later time. But, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “the sun shines today also … Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.”

Myth explains, myth personifies, myth illuminates. Myth is humankind’s attempt to explain existence to itself.

But myth is also falsehood. Myth is fiction, a narrative created to characterize an event or phenomenon. Some might even rebut Campbell’s claim and posit that modern myth is not only extant, but very well and good in modern society.

While we are reading all types of mythic work for this issue, we are particularly interested in political myth and its role in the tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Book Review: A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony by Justin Karcher, Tianna G. Hansen, and Kristin Garth

review by Jared Benjamin

VDC

A Victorian Dollhousing Ceremony is a three way-waltz, dancing and swaying to the tune of a poetic ballet. Collaborated by poets Kristin Garth (as “The Doll”), Tianna G. Hansen (as “The Firebird”), and Justin Karcher (as “The Wizard”); the entirety of this collaborative collection reads like an epic ballroom blitz, creating an unbridled, truthful magic. A magic embedded into the chasms of every broken soul.

In the first poem by Justin Karcher, the alias in his enigmatic archetype starts this set of tales, through a soliloquy recounting past demons that made homes inside a body once void of magic, now bountiful of it:

Before my teeth were swampy gemstones, I was but a boy

begging for scraps on the outskirts of some walled city

here was the mighty city with its musclemen and gutter nuns

here was the mighty city with its garbage trucks and concert halls

the songs the police sing when they beat desert into rain

what firefighters sing as they shove candles into graves

here was the mighty city mangling widows with debt and cobblestone”

savior saves something to destroy

 

Throughout this entire collection, Justin confronts the apparitions of his past in order to show an audience of readers what healing after a bedlam of pain looks like.

Then there is sonneteer Kristin Garth, who displays her experiences in the arms of toxic lusters, entrancing readers with the heartbreaking story of deceit. In the poem, Choreographers, readers can see this is not a song Garth wanted to dance to at first, but it’s one she finds refuge in showcasing inside the open wound of her stanzas:

By night, you bleed within, a sacrifice

that does not end at barre or with your art —

new bruises, uses, love you pay for twice,

pink tights, fishnets, careless rips of heart.

In dreams, you see all of them. His face becomes

a hundred men. First taught you to pretend,

bequeathing punishment with sugarplums.

You bite your lip and let them in again.”

 

Garth may represent “The Doll,” but unlike a pinned-up barbie, she is full of life and uses the magic in the pink plastic house of her words to build the bravery that one finds in a survivor’s biopic. The Doll is a symbol of the trials and tribulations one could experience in the clownish abyss of western patriarchy. The bullshit one goes through just to be loved, only to find heartbreak, and to be rejoined with the closest thing away from it, through the underrated mystic sanctuary in a paper pad and a pen.

Lastly there is Tianna G. Hansen, also known as the firebird, who bursts out her own poetic solos and belts the libretto of work that sings to readers like angels trying to re-attach their wings. In Basement Dreamscape Tianna breathes object personification into a reluctant smokescreen of past lives. Readers pay witness to a burning that swells the furnace of the firebird:

All around you nests worldly treasures, archives of

mysticism and impossibility, more a freakshow of

trapped desires and dreams

floating into existence with sheer wizardly will

you are nothing more now than a bottled wonder

exhibit to be shown, gazed upon. No longer

real to the outside world. you once dreamed of

burning

and becoming magnificent with your flames

perhaps you are a witch yearning for the stake

to feel the burn across slick skin instead of

consuming all inside. 

 

Tianna resurrects the ghosts of lyrical alienation only to give us a glimpse at a world view that doesn’t seek the means to a happy ending. Yet, the sheer honesty, the breadth of someone who doesn’t tell their story just to see readers smile.

Although in normal folklore, a wizard, a doll and a firebird would be completely different individuals in almost any situation; Karcher, Garth, and Hansen all have one major thing in common. They all share a magic in speaking one’s personalized truths in the guise of something fantastical. To turn tragedy into a wandering ghost in need of vanquishing; to turn the lies and deceit of bad romances into a set of rhythmic numbers patterns displayed for the literary dancefloors of the world to see; to unwind the fabric of time and space only to weave together the days of your own losses, the mental anguish that burns inside us all.

 

Book Review: “Lizardian” by Melissa R. Mendelson

by Jared Benjamin

 

Lizardian

What starts out in the scenery of a mysterious creature rising from the ashes of a car crash turns into a mystery that engulfs a small town. Melissa R. Mendelson’s Lizardian, harkens to the storytelling efforts of  literary iconoclasts such as Stephen King’s Itor a Televised Series such as Twin Peaksand brings their influence into another realm. Throughout the work there is an interconnected narrative with a diverse coalition of antagonists and protagonists. There’s the headstrong, intelligent High School Senior, Laurel who carries with her a dark-brooding secret; the clean-cut home-bred lawman, Sheriff Thomas Boyd; fellow officer and Long Island transplant, Jim Greer, and the villainous entity of the title with the same name. All of whom help paint the portrait of disruption throughout the story.

Melissa’s supernatural epic makes great use of space in the length between main street normalcy and the bridge into where the story takes its turn. It isn’t until the middle of the seventh chapter where we see the creature’s re-emergence. However, it shows the level of problems that still exist in the realm of small town Americana; without the visage of gore, without the vision of a Netherworldly creature. Issues like a young high schooler going through a lawsuit for saving a young boy’s life, or officers who take pride in their work, only to see it sullied by deputies like Mark Johnson, or the dispute between a man with a checkered past struggling to gain the custody rights to see his own daughter on her birthday. These all seem like small issues on a more universal level, but who are we to say what qualifies a level of concern according to someone else? Lizardian answers such a question, and says yes things can get worse, way, way worse.

This incarnate has a wrath much different than any creature I’ve read about. As in, their wrath, their impact is a slow churn rather than an all out kill. As this reptilian creature ravages through the town, clogging up police phone lines, enclosing people to their homes like nomads to caves amid an ice age; its impact is made in a silent whimper rather than loud bang. But even more intriguing is the fact the creature’s emergence in the town of Crowley, isn’t just out of the sake of vicinity. It’s because of a deeply-bottled secret, one that attracts the creature to this small town courtesy of Laurel. In this moment, her secret evokes the Lizardian and all his rampage potential as countless life after countless life is taken from it.

In contrast to my mention of the somewhat parallel to Stephen King’s IT; as fear fed the monstrous entity in that novel, the spirit of deceit seems to empower the entity in Lizardian. A deceit so encompassing that it’s the fuel that keeps this supernatural beast on his blood-craven path. A driving force that keeps this walking abyss from swallowing this town in collective consumption. Mendelson’s Lizardian is a hauntingly powerful work of suspense, with an unraveling slipstream that doesn’t just unwind from it’s stitching, but tears and rips itself apart, until it reveals thinnest line of thread wrapped around a massive lie. Lizardian demonstrates the build, the conflict and the climax that makes a tale of terror seep into the consciousness of its readers.