Sun, Apr 17, 2005 - Page 18 News List

Innovative contributors line up to have their say

The second issue of the Taichung-based magazine is a varied and fascinating collection -- and pressure to get printed in the magazine has clearly increased

By Bradley Winterton  /  CONTRIBUTING REPORTER

Pressed, Issue 2
Edited by Jason Tomassin
64 pages
Periodical: Taiwan

A prospective partner suffering from Hepatitis C, a turning-point between father and son over tattoos, Jesus' disciples drinking his blood after the crucifixion, London' River Thames as sinister and slatternly, golf as an erotic adjunct -- the second issue of the Taichung-based magazine Pressed certainly isn't short of innovative contributors. But what is the quality of Taiwan's only English-language literary periodical? And how does this issue compare with the first issue six months ago?

It appears to be the case that the contributions have been arranged roughly in order of merit; those near the front of the magazine, in other words, seem to be generally better than those near the end. It is therefore with more than a touch of ironic modesty that the editor, Jason Tomassini, places his own contribution (as he did in the first issue) last. The other exception to the principle are the results of the "Postcard Fiction" contest which are printed near the middle.

This competition called for short stories of 250 words or less. Almost all the contributors of longer stories in the magazine attempted this feat as well, but the winner, Kila Ku (for whom no biographical note appears), features only in the guise of minimalist narrator. Her winning story, Revenge, tells of a wife who has deliberately brought about her husband's death following his infidelity. She (if indeed this is a woman) also has another mini-story in a section containing the work of seven finalists, and I actually thought that one at least as effective as her winning narrative.

Entitled Tour, it concerns an aboriginal ceremony where legend has it that only a virgin will succeed in a particular difficult task. Various blushing young girls decline to participate, but eventually a middle-aged woman comes forward and successfully meets the challenge, looking resentfully at her husband at the back of the crowd as she does so.

On the whole, however, these mini-stories are less ingenious than they might have been. Perhaps ingenuity is not considered a necessary asset in responding to this particular diminishing act, but at 250 words there is arguably hardly room for very much else.

The magazine opens with a very sophisticated contribution. Joel McCaffery's poem The Man in the Yellow Hat and Curious George: Their Final Poetic Undoing, a curt dialogue between a man and an ape, with a special form of English created for the latter, is easily the best thing in the magazine. The heightened form of literary expression, the wittled-down nature of the exposition, and the suppressed drama of the situation all make this something quite exceptional.

Its comparatively rare for a man to succeed in imagining himself in the shoes of a woman in fiction, but Lance Carroll brings this off in a fine and humane love story, The Price of a Dance. There's none of McCaffery's compression or intensity of expression here, but instead an open, free narrative in traditional form about two people who can, and then cannot, make it together. Despite its seeming simplicity, this sort of transparency is difficult to do well, and this story remains one of the more memorable things in the collection.

Mark Paas contributes an effective tale of the tensions between a couple, one a golfer, the other an enthusiast for crafts. Their initial dialogue is handled with considerable wit, but the story concludes with a letter from the man to the woman after she is seriously injured in a car accident. Wit changes to anguish to make up a very absorbing narrative.

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