OR: Psychotrope #9

A magazine review that originally appeared in The Fix #2:-

PSYCHOTROPE #9

‘Issue 9 and final’ is what it says on the cover, editor Mark Beech having decided, after several years spent ploughing his own idiosyncratic course through the world of magazine publishing, to do something else with his life. Also on the cover is a reproduction of ‘The Toilet of Lampito’ by Aubrey Beardsley, a naked cupid applying a powder puff to a woman’s posterior with one hand while getting ready to apply his own personal moisturiser with the other (euphemism). Because she’s worth it?

Psychotrope has always been a bit rough and ready, with emphasis on content rather than production values, and that remains true to the end. If anything there seems to be slightly more typos than in the past (Hugh Cook we read has ‘appeared expensively elsewhere’) and in my copy two pages of the Allen Ashley story appear to be printed out of order. Fiction-wise Psychotrope has always been infuriating, on the one hand publishing stories that should never have left the sanctity of the confessional and on the other giving us work that leaves the reader gobsmacked, the kind of crude but breathtaking originality you won’t really find anywhere else. This hit and miss quality is a necessary consequence of the magazine’s risk taking agenda, and most of the time I wouldn’t have it any other way.

‘The Broom Cupboard of Crossed Destinies’, a collaboration between Rhys Hughes and D F Lewis, starts as a witty pastiche of Italo Calvino but detours into a cul de sac of smugly clever conceit. Hugh Cook’s ‘Gap Music’ has some good ideas and nice moments of satire, but goes on a little too long for its own good, while ‘A Conversation in Modern Myth’ by H M Reynolds, despite the promising title, is the old ‘I met a homicidal maniac escaped from the loony bin and lived to tell the tale’ schtick given another outing (Psychotrope had one of these in #1, so there’s a nice bookend feel to it if little else). Martin Taulbut’s ‘Winter on the Island’ has some striking imagery and moments of arch weirdness, but you never get past the idea that the narrative exists simply as a framing device for them. All of these stories have something to commend them, if not satisfying as a whole.

More consistent material is on offer however. Newcomer Heidi Williamson in ‘Virus Alert’ has a lot of fun with the concept of fiction itself as a form of infection. Kay Fletcher’s ‘The Good Quality Coat’ is a clever and finely observed piece in which a man’s emotional state is reflected in the condition of his clothing. Best of all there’s a story by Allen Ashley, a writer who on a good day can produce work that makes any magazine worth buying. I know the timing isn’t right, but I’d like to believe ‘Siberia’ was conceived on the day Archer got sent down (they don’t come much better than that). In matter of fact tones it tells the story of an expedition to a remote part of the globe in search of what may be the tomb of God. Where most writers would find this alone sufficient, Ashley intercuts it with a girlfriend’s post-mortem commentary on her doomed relationship with the main protagonist, so that realms of spiritual quest and emotional vacuity overlap to telling effect, culminating in an existential response to the universal defining quality of hopelessness. Or, in plain English, bugger me but this is good!

Stories of varying degrees of obscurity by Dawn Andrews, Donna Taylor Burgess, N J Elliott and Jonathan Jones help bring down the curtain on a magazine with a distinguished track record, one that has always had a clear idea of where it wants to go, but often remained vague about the details of how to get there.

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