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The &Now Awards 3

Short Fiction  |  Experimental Fiction  |  Hybrid
344 pages
8” x 10” Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-1941423981
First Edition
Review Copy: PDF
Lake Forest College Press
Lake Forest, Illinois, USA
Available HERE
Review by Laura Citino

The &Now Awards Anthology, Volume 3, is a monster. It’s big, brutal, mythical, and haunting. It is not a book to breeze through on a sunny morning, nor a collection that will sit quietly on your shelf or your mind. It’s multifaceted; thumb through, and you’ll find all genres represented and everything in between.

These works stubbornly defy classification, and often only vaguely resemble literary pieces as you might know them. Many pieces totally break down sentence structure and grammar— others experiment with typography, symbols, and other visual media. A selection from “Tender Buttons” by Angela Genusa uses what looks like the type of error messages that pop up in poorly-constructed code, a mixture of Wingdings, diacritics, and strange punctuation. It’s worth noting that this piece appears third in the collection; the strange outnumbers the normal here. Richard Kostelanetz’s selection from A Book of Eyes treats the reader to myriad versions of the letter I, in different typefaces and moods, all enlarged and aggressively presented. Micha Cárdenas takes inspiration from programming code to create a fresh perspective on what it means to span identities in one body:

package net.walkingtools;

import info.QueerTechnologies.TransCoder;

public class Transformer extends java.lang.Object implements java.lang.Runnable

/* Fields */

private java.lang.String lifeLine;
private boolean maleOrFemale;
private boolean citizenOrMigrant;
private java.lang.String genderDesired;
private java.lang.String genderGiven;
private java.lang.String oldName;
private java.lang.String newName;
private java.lang.String birthPlace;
private java.lang.String destination;
private java.lang.String attributes;
private java.io.File uploadMyBody;
(from “Transborder Immigrant Tool Series, 2011,” p. 213)

As far as subject matter goes, these pieces aim to be decidedly not mainstream. Many of these authors take trashy, raunchy, vapid pop culture and elevate it. Take, for example, Laura Relyea’s series of poems about pop star, Ke$ha:

It takes twenty-three minutes to twist and weave the peonies into satisfactory crowns. Their bulbous sepals balance delicately against our foreheads—descended halos of amaranth, fandango, and carmine. We are the sovereigns of your backyard, Ke$ha and I. Imagine us barefoot and sheathed in white eyelet. We reign over the firefly twilight with hushed laughter. You can spot us in the distance, breaking apart pinecones and making wishes on their brittle corpses. We play croquet and badminton, and douse our bellies in dandelion wine. Darkness descends and we continue our antics—cartwheeling through beds of clovers.
(from “Ke$ha and I Frolic in the Backyards of Our Neighbors,” p. 72)

The path twists with every page. Brian Oliu pulls us inside the pixelated drama of early Nintendo video games with his “Boss Battle” series. There’s Matt Bell’s excellent fairytale/myth madness, “In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods” on one page, and emoji poems in translation (by Carina Finn and Stephanie Berger) on the next.

So what are the common threads? Does this read like a cohesive collection, or a thousand-headed beast from mythical times? Yes, and no. As stated, this isn’t a book to sit down and power through in one sitting. It’s one to pick up any time you’re feeling bored, uninspired, generally depressed by the literary state of things. It’s inspiring to see what true thinking-outside-of-the-box looks like. More so, as I read The &Now Awards anthology, one particular emotion kept coming up again and again: aggression. It was the sheer aggression, rage, and in-your-face existence that made the collection such a breath of fresh air that it was. The anthology is at times graphic and gratuitous in toe-curling ways, but it makes no apologies and offers no timidity. These pieces seem like they would exist no matter who was reading them, even if no one was reading them. These are strong voices spitting some strange ideas, and it’s worth the time even just to expand your definition of what literature looks like.

The winner of the Madeleine P. Plonkser Emerging Writer’s Residency Prize, Cecilia Corrigan’s “Titanic,” rounds out the collection. As the piece, genre-bending in its own right, comes to a close, the protagonist visits a contemporary art installation and listens to the instructions piped in over the loudspeaker:

[...] Please step into the coffin. Thank you. Please mount the Plexiglass and acrylic headset over your forehead with the viewing screen positioned to encompass your entire line of vision. Press four once you have mounted the headset.

“Press four once you have mounted the headset.
“Press four once y—”
“Thank you. Please lie back in the sculpture to begin the presentation. Please lie back.

Please lie back in the—
(p. 309)

It makes sense that the very last piece in the collection ends in the middle of a sentence. Maybe even more so than aggression, unfettered and unrestrained and frequently immature, this anthology is all about disruption. These pieces disrupt preconceived notions of our happy secure world, one where our naïve trust in technology often blinds us to oppressive institutions and identities—gender, race, sexuality, even the boundaries of what a poem or a short story actually is. These pieces offer a way forward, or at the very least, an alternate look—a little something different. It shakes you up. It rattles you a little.

Laura Citino is a Staff Book Reviewer for The Volt. She is originally from southeastern Michigan and currently teaches English and writes in Terre Haute, Indiana. Laura received her MFA in fiction from Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Washington, and attended Western Michigan University for undergraduate, where she studied creative writing and German. Her fiction and nonfiction has been published online and in journals such as Midwestern Gothic, Passages North, Bluestem, and Sou’Wester, and she has previously served as a regular contributor for Bark.

• This book was sent to Alternating Current by its publicist. The reviewer does not know the publisher and received the book from Alternating Current at random. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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