OR: Problem Child #1

A review that originally appeared in The Fix #7:-


Edited by Lori Selke

‘A Group Home for Well-Loved but Unruly Literature’ is what it says on the front cover. In both its predilection for old advertisements and drawings from yesteryear by way of illustration and the quirky fiction it offers PC brings to mind that other wilful prodigy, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. Editor Lori Selke declares her own background to be in erotica and gay literature, and says that she’s looking to provide an outlet for ‘stories that were too sexy and edgy for mainstream markets it seemed, but without enough actual genital action to make the erotica markets happy’, so expect to see a lot of what’s often euphemistically and sometimes entirely accurately referred to as adult fiction.

‘Siren’s Call’ by Karen Z. Perry gets the issue off to a flying start with the tale of a fireman and his engine, said engine having a personality all its own and falling in love with the guy in uniform, a relationship that’s bound to end in flames. Doesn’t sound promising does it, but Perry’s tasteful writing and ability to evoke mood makes this incredible scenario seem real and brings a tale of unrequited love alive. Richard Butner’s ‘Banal Probes’ piles one absurdity on top of another as it sends up the concept of alien abduction with zest, giving us an out of work PR guy who the aliens want to use to put themselves over to mankind. No denying there’s a lot of fun here, but the plot does tend to ramble a bit, as if the author is making it all up as he goes along, and ultimately it comes close to exhausting its welcome. The story could have done with being a bit sharper. As is, it reads like a first draft. Selke’s own ‘The Secret Life of Mr Clean’ illustrates the point perfectly, wittily imagining a day in the life of one of those anthropomorphised household cleaners, such as Mr Muscle. Sad and very funny, the advertising jargon deftly skewered on a spike of satire.

Next up is my favourite piece, ‘White Girl’ by Miriam Gurba, a beautifully paced account of a young woman’s sexual awakening, all the trials and tribulations of young love laid out on the page. The prose is vivid and the narrative rich in those telling details that make people and situations come alive, and underlying it all is a sense of loss that makes you want to cry. Bill Brent’s ‘Drugs and Sleep’ is a triumph of style over substance, an account of a good/bad trip (you decide) but rising above the banality of the situation through the use of a sing song prose that brings out the rhythm of the ordinary events described, coming close to capturing the lure of the drug experience. ‘The Case of the Delirious Nervekranken Siblings and Dr. Moritz’s Coital Cure: A Psychoanalytic Case History (1911)’ by Lisa Archer is every bit as bad as it sounds and one of the magazine’s low points. It tries to ape the language of psychoanalysis, and though promising at first it ends up going so far over the top whatever humour might have been found in the situation expires for lack of oxygen. Written in the first person ‘Awakening’, one of two shorts by Jean Roberta, cleverly examines sexual etiquette, arguing that the metaphors to which we cling help determine our actual sexual experience. The last line, which in a more obvious piece would be a terrible cliché, is here just right. ‘God’ by Greg Wharton is an ultra-short that’s two parts sick joke to one part blasphemy and the fact that I found it hilarious says more about me than it does about the quality of the story. Probably best avoided if you have any sort of religious convictions at all.

Jan Stekel’s ‘That Balding Angel’ is only two pages and confusing. I think it’s about a medical student who is having all sorts of odd emotional entanglements because his one time writing tutor thought he should have more in the way of worldly experience and so asked an angel to get on his case. On the other hand it might be about something else entirely. Either way I quite enjoyed it, and had the distinct impression that some interesting things were going on even if I didn’t know what they were. ‘Just Nasty at the Subspecies Ball’ by Ryan Kamstra is even more confusing and this time I didn’t get the sense that anything much at all was going on. It reads like something written by someone who’s trying way too hard to be both deep and controversial, as two weird people get it on together. From obscure to perfectly opaque with ‘Cat Got Your Tongue?’ by Scott T. Wilson, the most ordinary story here, a slice of Horror hokum, which tells the story of a man lumbered with the Anticat. It’s quite amusing most of the time, but goes on a bit too long and then fizzles out rather than reaching any climax. I imagine Eddie Murphy will star in the film adaptation. Whatever, it certainly provides an interesting contrast to the rest of the magazine. Finally there’s ‘Mindscape’, the second piece from Jean Roberta, and this time she’s in a metafictional mood, investigating the culpability of a writer who allows her character to be raped. It sounds offbeat, but the story does address serious concerns about the role of fiction in creating social expectations.

In addition to the fiction there are poems by Steve Schwartz and Daphne Gottlieb, while Schwartz also provides an amusing article on ‘The Zines That Might Have Been’, several of which I think I might have been published in.

Problem Child has made an auspicious debut, and if they can maintain this standard the magazine has a bright future.

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