Sex. Issue number 5 of Birkensnake, released in 2012,wastes no time with what they are looking for. Sex and every conceivable idea of it. And that’s exactly how the collection starts out. The exploration of sex through eyes we’ve all seen through, when words like “penis” or “cock” were taboo and spoken in hushed tones in the backs of classrooms so nobody heard you. Simon Barker’s short story “The Mystery of the Phallos” turns into an honest coming of age story centered around sex, as well as growing up in all its awkwardness and hilariously terrifying moments. The use of language and narrative tone is what makes the story unique and expressive, and is an excellent opener to the issue.
The narration mirrors that of a child, still somewhat innocent and ignorant; “Dad stayed home from work today and went to see Mum in hospital. Jane and I did not come because last time Jane would not let go and wanted Mum to come home. But Dad said Mum was not recovered. That made Jane throw her tantrum all the way in the car.” This kind of writing dips into what they call for in their submission guidelines; strange, unique narration unlike the traditional conversation or narrative told by man and woman to one another. It’s creative and accurately tells the story that Barker wants to tell through the curious eyes of a child that still isn’t quite sure what to make of this new world that everyone around him wants to keep hidden.
Tracy Gonzalez’s “Let the Mother Worry” dips into the passion, the drunken miasma of sex and sweat, moving forward from the humble beginnings of a pubescent teenager flipping through their father’s dirty books. It dives right into the dirty awkwardness of sex and the reality of living as a sexual being. This is in contrast to the media, which promotes societal sexuality and hides real, honest and intimate sex. The instinctual nature of human beings is to be driven by sex and desire, and this story doesn’t stop until we are right in the middle of this feeling, with visceral images rising in the reader’s head;
“The room heats up with bodies and no place to put the bulky coats. I want to sit in the middle of all of the men but it’s hard. They are everywhere. I settle for little sits here and there. They don’t know how I am doing that dual thinking with them that men do with women, how I am sizing them up like sex prey while my mouth does something else. They don’t know how I am really taking them in. Smelling them. Small touches. Brushing back hair. A test of their wrist pulse. How their neck takes to the pads of my fingers. Assimilating them. It’s what I do.”
The narrator tells a dirty, congested story rooted in instinct. And in a way, It takes the same vein as Nabokov’s controversial Lolita, where as the reader we are conflicted as to how to feel by the end. And yet the writing is worth it; it’s honest and doesn’t hide the truth, no matter how deep we get.
And where does that all get us? The Party After the Party by Greg Foltz looks into the future, and why we always talk about living in the present as if the present hasn’t actually occurred yet. What happens after those late nights full of alcohol and sweaty bedrooms? What happens, years from now, when we remember the things we’ve almost forgotten or the things we had hoped to forget? The surreal quality of the narration is typical of the kind of story Birkensnake looks for in their submissions; “As for the rest of the people in the room, who are they? One thing is certain: they’ve come here to dance. But not the designers. They’ve come here to learn more about the impulses that the city redirects back at them.” The story borders on the Murakami-esque technique of realism through surrealism, grounding readers in a tangible world while exploring the facets of something beyond that, something that can’t be explained or even answered.
Each of these stories were chosen because they break the mold of what short form fiction can do, through both narration and content. Sex, in truth, is a weird act, and so very often condemned by society. But the writers published in Birkensnake refuse to let these truths remain hidden. Birkensnake will make you coil up in your seat feeling embarrassed, and there’s never been a better time than now, with the massive rise in experimental fiction that literary journals like these are so very much in love with. There is no better time to write and read about these topics, when society itself is on the cusp of embracing what makes it so human.