Unstuck is an Austin non-profit fiction journal that aims to collect short stories together into an annual edition of the surreal, fantastic, and futuristic. The first issue has 21 short stories, 5 poems, and 1 non-fiction essay. The first thing the reader will notice about the book is its clean-cut and unique cover image, along with its appealing muted purple-and-gray c0lor scheme on the binding. The text itself is printed in large, crisp letters, making each story easy to digest. What I enjoyed most about the collection is that each story reads very similar. Most of the fiction uses collective sentence structures and diction, making the entire volume incredibly cohesive. The transition from each story to the next is smooth and unjarring.
Us here at Space Squid really enjoyed “Second Grade” by Charles Antin, “The Cottage on the Hill” by J. Robert Lennon, “The Eel” by Rennie Sparks, and “Wonderblood” by Julia Whicker. These four stories (Well, “The Eel” is an essay — but a riveting one at that!) are worth the purchase alone, but all the stories in the volume are of a high caliber. “Second Grade” is a familiar narrative following a grade school teacher, and the odd event of their male students being recruited and sent off to war. “The Cottage on the Hill” is a scenic piece describing, predictably, a reclusive vacation cottage on a hill. In the story, a man goes to the cottage four times throughout his life: when he’s young, married, and with his two children; after his divorce; when he is alone but successful; and when he is almost on his deathbed. At each visit, the cottage changes to mirror his life decisions, and it is an interesting piece worthy of a read. “The Eel” is a fascinating story about the enigmatic lifespans and practices of eels. Sparks compares their “genetic memory,” their drive, and their long lifespans to Aphrodite and the mysterious forces of the Bermuda Triangle. “Wonderblood” is an engaging short story set in a futuristic semi-dystopian America. The story follows a teenage girl and her “brother” that makes voodoo charms out of dead people’s heads. Society has collapsed and people have collected into brutal gang-like carnivals that travel together. Magic has made an apparent return with the decrease in literacy, and some of the magic chanted in the story are amusing strings of words that are everyday for us but sacred to the ignorance of the future. American states still retain their names, in an almost holy and ancient way, and the events that unfold are lighthearted and unique. This one particular story in the book made me really desire more to be written in this unique setting.
Praises aside, the journal itself is not without its flaws. Most of the poetry was rather uninteresting and serve as obstacles between some of the more engaging and interesting fiction pieces. Andrew Friedman’s “The Rain Falls Down and Hits Us, So Down’s Where We Must Be” was not the strongest story in the issue and thus was a lackluster ending to an otherwise exciting ride. The issue is well-worth the purchase and a great addition to any bookshelf.
You can learn more about Unstuck on their website, and order yourself a volume from there as well.