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The Review Man

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The Rag: Winter 2012

The Rag: Winter 2012 - Seth Porter A few weeks ago I was sent a message on Goodreads by a Dan Reilly, who encouraged me to read a magazine he was promoting. I figured I'd try the free issue hosted on their website. I promised a fair review, although that's not saying a whole lot since all of my reviews are fair, but most of them are under three stars. Maybe I'm just a sucker for punishment.

The magazine is called The Rag, which doesn't inspire much confidence and made me wonder whether it was Vagina Monologues-themed. Turns out I was half right: there are no vaginas (apart from one cringe-inducing mention of a "fleshy seat"—seriously, what is this?), but there's lots of fucking. (By that I mean the writers have a curious predilection for the f-word. You'll be hard pressed to find a piece without that word. I generally find cursing distasteful, but so be it.) It's never easy to kickstart a publication, especially one that'll probably appeal to a very limited audience, so I do applaud the editors' efforts in that respect.

The Rag collects gritty, ironic short stories about uncomfortable things. "Transgressive fiction", it's called. It's not hard to figure out why. Most of the contributing authors seem like the sort of people who rebelled against the mainstream and joined a hipster/punk collective in high school, then rebelled against that in their early twenties. Their characters are simultaneously Anti-Everything and anti-Anti-Everything, if that's even possible. As such, there's quite a lot of suburbia-indicting and blasé existentialism going on. One story is littered with brand names ("We eat a lot of chicken thighs fried in I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!"). Another deals with a space traveller who arrives on one of Jupiter's moons while high on antidepressants and uncovers some sort of ghastly genocide, although we'll never know how or why it happened or whether it was important. (Today's writers, not content with merely "not telling", have apparently decided to "not show" either.)

The worst of the bunch is a piece called "D–Gen". (The author must've been too cool to spell out the word degenerate.) The main character, a broke, alcohol-chugging, sex-starved security guard/extortionist who spends all his earnings/stealings on poker, is so comically misanthropic that I burst out laughing while reading the story. By the time he pulled the fire alarm on a wedding party, I was beside myself. It's hard not to giggle at such po-faced self-seriousness.

What else might you expect if you flip through an issue of The Rag? You might find spelling and grammar errors:

All four girls are just standing there perched up on their toes in their little black heals [sic], pondering just what the fuck is going on.

But don't worry—that was written by someone who aims to "show how the traditional American Dream is more or less an unsustainable and equally ridiculous aspiration"! Would it be cruel to point out that this guy's writing career is also an unsustainable and equally ridiculous aspiration?

To be fair, I can't say whether this issue is representative of the magazine as a whole. Who knows—maybe the pieces have increased in quality as a function of time. And let's not dwell excessively on the negatives; there are two things that save this issue from utter hopelessness. The first is a decent piece called "You Take Care Now, Mary Jones". No f-words in this one, and while the characters are still soulless anti-consumerist mouthpieces, at least they're interesting mouthpieces. The second is a story named "The Leaves Are Falling" that takes a very brief look at life, marriage, pain and death. It's too short but it shows great promise. It's written by a mathematician too—I knew those guys were awesome.

2 stars.