Supplemental Reading

Madison Bush ’18
Guest Contributor

We all dread the search for the perfect supplement—whether fighting for the library reserve copy of a suggested text or hunting through the piles of hornbooks at the PILA Book Sale. Similarly, finding the perfect novel, while certainly more enjoyable, can be equally frustrating. Most law students love reading (or don’t and maybe should have thought the law school thing through a little better), but are too overcommitted and under-caffeinated to choose a book, much less read it. In this column, I’ll do the work for you, giving you that perfect title which will float around at the bottom of your to-read pile, waiting for the magical day when you find yourself with the elusive creature called free time. Reading this review is a short investment, which you can walk away from at the end (unlike your journal—good luck 1L’s).   

In a world of self-help books, hobby blogs and fake news, I am happy to see the growth of the online literary magazine.  The publishing world offers few paths for writers, and traditional publishing has killed as many careers as it creates. Meanwhile, the online self-publishing industry opened the floodgates for authors who could not get their work past the to-read pile of an editor’s desk. Of course, that is not always a good thing.  Editors are important and without them many works appear in an immature, unpolished form. Literary journals strike the happy medium between the stringent world of traditional publishing and the free-for-all of self-publishing—offering new writers and new editors room to grow. 

he Kava plant. Photo courtesy buykavadirect.com

he Kava plant.
Photo courtesy buykavadirect.com

Rumble Fish is a brand-new online literary magazine edited by Katie Sions, a University of Virginia graduate who puts her English degree to good use in this clever, curated collection of short fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and art.  The clean WordPress site—evergreen and cranberry, with a swampy cover photo—beckons visitors to enter a literary realm, one replete with (perhaps unintentionally) strong ties to Virginia.  The debut Winter 2017 Issue contains two poems, two short fictions and one non-fiction reflection, in addition to four black-and-white original drawings. The drawings complement the works, ranging from a cartoonish rat to an exercise in shading, followed by a pair of lovely cardinals and ending with a satellite tower, of all things. The Editor’s Note sets off the issue, an exuberant introduction disguised as a thoroughbred race (Editor’s Note, an actual horse, won the Belmont Stakes in 1996). 

The two short fictions are both contemporary pieces with the dark, pastoral flair of the Southern Gothic style of Faulkner and O’Connor. In “Routine Maintenance,” life, death, and rats intermingle.  Two men, Teddy and Isaiah, try to solve a rat problem they created in the first place. The delicate imagery of pet rats, rat poison, and a pregnant sister contribute to the reader’s unease, which carries the story through to a suitably uncertain end. “Appomattox, VA,” falls deeper into heavy themes, introducing us to a first-person narrator, “Winnie,” who spits and smokes and is “the meanest 19 year old” one will know. Readers familiar with old farmhouses and muddy creek beds will easily tromp along with Winnie and Andrew, all the way to a pair of hidden plastic chairs. Grief, growth, and poverty complete the portrait of life in one of the world’s small corners. 

Both poems complement the themes introduced by the short fictions. “Kava Kava” somehow manages to be insufferably hipster and wonderfully honest in fifteen short lines. Kava is a plant grown throughout the Pacific Islands, used traditionally by Pacific Ocean cultures for its medicinal properties. The poem captures the constant American hunt for new fads—a trend which creates cultural appropriation in its wake—while still celebrating the search for new experience. The Winter 2017 Issue ends with David Kunkel’s poem, “Dr. Frock Lectures a Company,” a thought experiment that overlays imagery with scientific formula, in a whimsical theory of grad student existence. 

Of all the pieces, however, I was most struck by B. Wilder’s “This is Me,” a non-fiction reflection on the struggles of living with bipolar disorder. “This is Me” takes the reader along with the author’s journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance, traveling through Hawaii, South America, and Australia, on a series of backpacking adventures, misadventures, and workplace friendships. Some people in the author’s shoes may have been satisfied with learning to cope with bipolar disorder, but B. Wilder shows us how to thrive. 

Rumble Fish hits its mark with this debut issue. Like any first effort, there is room for improvement, from the overly metaphoric editor’s note to the scattered rhombuses filling the empty space. Despite a slight immaturity, however, the twenty-seven pages of the Winter Issue are amazingly balanced and coherent, carving out a place for young authors (with strong ties to Virginia) to celebrate and lament modern America through poetry, fiction, and artistic expression.  

You can find Rumble Fish here: https://rumblefishblog.wordpress.com/

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mcb4za@virginia.edu