Sunday, May 04, 2008

Greatest Uncommon Denominator (2) – Review

Greatest Uncommon Denominator Issue 2 – Review (
By Caroline Hunter

Greatest Uncommon Denominator brings together a group of provocative, disorienting, imaginative and crafted pieces of writing with disconcerting confidence. Each piece offers its own dark twist upon reality with nuance and skill but questionable sanity. It carries the reader into a wild journey of surreal inquiry and exploration.

Some of the short stories stretch the imagination and bring it back to a concluding relief, such as “El Alejibre” by D. Richard Pearce. This story is a harmless trip into magical realism and self-reflection, and includes animated skeleton dolls and a shape-shifting cat. The characters are boldly drawn and the environment described in delightfully peculiar detail. It leaves the reader with a feeling of incredulous amusement.

Other short stories take one on a trip to stranger and stranger metaphysical destinations, only to dump him/her in a state of mind similar to what I would imagine LSD might induce. Such a one was “The Salivary Reflex” by Tina Connelly. Its portrait of the main character, a woman who has a fixation with licking, is interesting in its intricacy; Alison describes her husband as tasting like “dust and dry-erase-marker stench.” However, the idiosyncratic details lead nowhere. Instead of bringing the reader to a new place of understanding, the many tastes that Alison describes as she moves through a short stretch of her life leave a bad taste in his/her mouth.

The characters in these stories are all unique; the problem is that you eventually realize that you would rather not have met them. Several stories, like “Offworld Friends Are Best” by Neil Blaikie, initially grab the reader with a confident narrative voice. Then this voice bunches up and spirals down into a psychological standstill while minute patches of illumination attempt to surface along the way. One gets the feeling that the story got bored with its narrator and went off to find somewhere else to be.

“Under the Flowers a Carcass Waits,” a poem by Rusty Barnes, is one of a group of pieces in this collection that carries the reader up a few stories from the circus of pathology that makes its rounds through the rest of the book. The first line, “Under a pear tree a sloppy-jawed mutt chews on a raw beef knuckle,” is a good example of the rich imagery that dominates the poem. In this piece and a few others, natural imagery carries an unsettling and vague plotline through to satisfying literary coherence.

Unfortunately, the majority of the writing in the Spring 2008 issue of Greatest Uncommon Denominator is more exploration than composition. I enjoy experimental writing, but came out of these stories feeling I had been used as a therapist by writers who should have let these stories mull a little longer in their minds before tossing them onto a page. Being strange is what you do on your own time; don’t let these authors break through the door to your psyche in the half-baked nightmare that is this issue of Greatest Uncommon Denominator. At least stick to your own nightmares, because the devil you know is better...

Caroline Hunter/Ibbetson Update/May 2008

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