Nemonymous 4, a review.
The concept is brilliant in its simplicity: An anthology/magazine (or “magazanthus” if you prefer) comprised of stories with no bylines. No big names, no names at all. Everyone on a level playing field. Every aspiring author's dream, right? “But it's not a level playing field,” one might say, “The editor knows who submitted the stories. In fact, the field could be quite crooked. How do we know that the he or she doesn't only publish stories written by his or her friends? Or worse, what if the editor only says that there was a submission process? What if all the stories are by the same author? And what if the editor is an author, who posing as editor only publishes his own stories? Huh? What do you have to say now smart guy?” Well, the stories are submitted anonymously as well. Names don't come into the picture until the author accepts a piece. “How does he contact the author?” Email. The authors are asked to submit anonymously via a free email service or via an aquaintance's account. Upon acceptance, the author can reveal himself or herself, or not. “Oh. I still see some problems.” Yeah, well nothing is perfect, now is it? “But what if I really enjoy a story. How will I find out the author's name?” The authors' identities are revealed in the issue following the one in which their story appeared and are posted to the Nemonymous website, message board , and email list. “That's all very web-centric and not simple at all.” Nothing is perfect, and when you get right down to it most things that appear to be “simple” are quite complex. “Yeah, but...” Look, I have a review to write, ok?
So there's your background. A labour of love for editor D.F. Lewis, Nemonymous 1 appeared in 2001 and featured sixteen stories by a mixture of known, unknown, and soon-to-be known writers (the curious can find the bylines here), Nemonymous 2 appeard in 2002, Nemonymous 3 in 2003, and the issue I have sitting on my desk, Nemonymous 4, was published earlier this year.
As an object, Nemonymous 4 is quite striking. The front and back covers are blank, literally. All that white space can be a little disconcerting, especially when taken with the smooth, almost slippery texture of the paper. It's as if you're holding a void. Which, is quite in keeping with the concept behind the anthology. The interior layout and design courtesy The Third Alternative Press are quite well done. The book looks good.
Of course, when it comes to literature, looks don't mean a thing, right? In this case the stories match the presentation. For those of you unfamiliar with the editor, Mr. Lewis writes fiction of the weird, horrorific, and surreal variety; as an editor, his tastes run along similar lines. Before I go any further, I should stress that there are no bad stories in this anthology. There are stories that aren't to my taste, but nothing that made me think, “Why the hell is this here?” With that in mind, the following stories make Nemonyous 4 worthy of your attention.
“Embrace” pissed me off at first. Mostly because nothing grates on my nerves like a story about a middle-aged professor who gets tangled up with one of his students. Invariably the authors of these stories are middle-aged professors who wish they could become tangled up with one of their students. Or even worse, they're middle-aged professors leeching ideas from their students. In this case the story revolves around a professor named Chris. Chirs is minding his own business, shagging one of his students, and preparing for an evaluation when he comes across a “Kid so frighteningly ugly that I didn't dare look at her, so I couldn't be sure just how ugly she was. She looked damaged, somehow. Inhuman.” After the initial encounter with the mystery girl, things get very bad for Chris. As I said above, the story irritated me on the first pass, so much so that I read it again just to be sure that it really had annoyed me that much. On the third pass I realized that while I still didn't particularly like any of the characters, or the setting, or the plot, it had made an impression.
“The Frog's Pool (a surreal script in three emergences and six resonances)” is a fable of sorts about a group of frogs in an Australian desert and what happens when worse comes to absolute worst. To go into more detail would spoil the story, so I'll just say that this is how experimental writing should be, but rarely is.
“Maledict Michela” is a fever dream about ugly people doing ugly things to each other told in language so salacious, slippery, and opulent that it almost makes one gag. (This is a good thing in my book.) It's the one story where I think I might be able to guess the author. (And really that's part of the fun of a project like this.)
“Nocturne For Doghands” is the most bizarre piece in the collection. It opens, “I just can't scream anymore. Wrung out, flat and gasping, a dreadful dissonance pulsing through my veins. Beside me on yellow-stained satin sheets, my hands gaze at me, panting.” The narrator, a pianist, has just woken up with dogs for hands. It's not giving too much away to say that his left hand has been replaced with a female daschund, his right with a male pug. Needless to say his day his day is off to a bad start. It gets worse.
“The Withering”, which closes out the collection, is set in a dystopian future, very much in the vein of Orwell's 1984. The nameless protagonist is charged with what amounts to thought-crime is sentenced to the titular punishment. I'm sure most readers will be able to guess the ending well in advance, but the author brings the final scenes to life in such a way that the hapless reader is pulled into the room with the protagonist, and you can't help but cringe. Or maybe it's just me.
Other stories of note include: "The Painter", a tale of artistic obsession; the noir-inflected "The Rorschach-Interpreter"; and the steamy, sticky "Sexy Beast."
There have been some rumblings that this may be the final volume in the Nemonymous saga (or at least, the last issue to follow the format laid out above,) I sincerely hope that this isn't the case as Nemonymous is a unique venture, very few paying markets would take a chance on a story like "Frog's Pool", just to name one, and it would be a shame to see such an outlet disappear.*
*And rumours of its demise may have been greatly exaggerated as guidelines for Nemonymous 5 have been issued.