Last year I reviewed Exponential Apocalypse, truly one of the most bizarre and entertaining novels I’d encountered in a long time. Its author, Eirik Gumeney, edits an online magazine of short fiction called the Jersey Devil Press, and recently he sent us a copy of their new book, The 2010 Jersey Devil Press Anthology. Between traveling to conventions and keeping busy with non-Fandomania work all summer, I fell behind on my reviewerly duties and only just read the book in the past couple of weeks. Oh man.
When I read Exponential Apocalypse, I left the novel with the assumption that Gumeney was a singularly odd talent with a penchant for turning weird, seemingly random, and oddball situations into good storytelling. After finishing this anthology, I’ve realized that he is not alone in his completely insane creativity. The book collects 20 stories assembled from the best of the Jersey Devil Press website’s offerings from the year. While some of them are a bit more grounded than others, the majority of the stories drop the reader into the middle of a crazy collision of character moments, pop culture, profanity, and unspeakable acts with unicorns.
Many of the stories in the collection are very experimental, and there’s even one story (“This Is a Story About California and I Would Be Living There” by Jonathan Plombon) written from the viewpoint of the writer who is actively writing the story as an experimental writing assignment. Not every story is quite that strange. Z.Z. Boone’s “Run Away” is a girl’s account of her time living outdoors and outside of society when she flees her home, her mother, and her mother’s boyfriend. Farther into the collection is “How to Tell Your Aunt and Uncle You Want to Marry Their Daughter” by Kevin Brown, the story that I think epitomizes what works about the Jersey Devil Press and its publications.
Brown’s story is an immediately outlandish tale and is written as a list of tips, addressing the reader in second person. The story conveys the lovestruck narrator’s anxiety and earnestness while occasionally spinning off into his wild imagination. There are a tone of familiarity, the setup for an awkward conversation, and a healthy dose of swearing. But beneath all that runs a current of insight and truth that elevates the strangeness in a very uncommon way. That’s where I see Jersey Devil Press’s strength in their two books that I’ve read. Sometimes the weirdness is just for the sake of weirdness, but very often it unfolds to reveal some subtle–and even occasionally important–commentary on humans and our nature.