New Brazilian Online Lit Mag Features Glimpses of Late-Modern Identity

Posted by on December 16th 2014 @ 9:22 pm

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originally published in The Review Review
Fall 2014

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Launched in 2013, The Brasilia Review is an online literary magazine showcasing bi-monthly pieces of short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from all over the world. The magazine has roots in Brasilia, DF, Brazil, but editor Dan Souder (Author, There Are No Tropes in San Tropez (Frontier Publishing)) and designer Nayrb Wasylycia (Winner, 2013 National AIGA Design Award) seem primarily concerned with exploring the global landscape, and the nodes of human experience and anxiety that plague this late-modern moment.

Wasylycia’s collage-inspired cover illustrations include pictures and clippings that often center around some main thoroughfare, a suburban road or a city street, a public intersection that could exist in almost any developed country. Cars and bicyclists pass by each other in a timeless blur. Illuminated store signs and building spires poke into the sky above. None of the stories or poems in Issue 8 are set in Brazil, or in South America, or are even particularly concerned with aspects of those regional cultures. Instead, jaded narrators explore familiar, commercial settings imbued with an almost absurd quality.

In Patrick Pawlowski’s story, “A Youngish Man,” the narrator (named “Teller”) inhabits a perpetually inebriated state — drunk on Tanqueray and masturbation — when he mistakenly falls in love with the image of a beautiful woman displayed on a subway liquor advertisement. The narrator of Christopher Schaeffer’s poem, “Donald Food Revisits the Canons of Spiritual Law,” navigates the shops of an over-sized mall and describes feeling “haunted as hell.” S.N.W. Tolstoy’s poem, “West Country Doughnut Disaster,” revolves around the “nightmarish” scenario of a day when a community has run out of all its doughnuts:

Well the kids took it well but the dads they were a mess

With threats and imprecations, floods of silent tears

And those who bear the scars of that terrible day

Who made it through by strength of will alone

Would sometimes have nightmares – but never speak about

The day that the doughnuts

Ran out

Satirical undertones in these stories poke fun at an overly commercialized culture. When the world is static and comfortable, borderline idyllic, even the lost pleasure of donut-eating can feel catastrophic. Any action or change at all can indeed appear insurmountable. The narrator in Andira Dodge’s “Dateless Snapshot” isolates herself inside her backyard playground, “afraid to test beyond the fence / when all perfect remains within.”

The narrator in Shaeffer’s poem is brave enough to venture out into the world, until he reaches the beach and uncovers beneath the sand “a brand-new 12 piece set of Zwilling J.A. Henckel fine edge cutlery with stain-resistant steel and polypropylene grips with traditional three-rivet design!” The satire in this scenario stems from both the superfluous detail about the knives, and the paranoid fantasy of a world where consumerism is so ingrained into our lives and identities that we find its products and vestiges hidden even in recesses of the natural world around us.

These themes are important, and increasingly urgent, as corporations seem to be surpassing governments in power and real capacity to take action in the world. Commercial logic is taking up more room in our shared cultural subconscious. Although many of the pieces in Issue 8 provide interesting glimpses into how these forces are shaping late-modern life, the stories feel more like sketches than narratives. The main characters are not actual people, but avatars. Their perspectives are nothing more than slightly perverse extensions of the modern and mass-consumer forces at play.

Issue 8 also includes a couple of bewildering entries. Laura Hurwitz’s short nonfiction piece, “American Muffler,” resembles a particularly detailed and well-written Yelp review, even down to the pithy final line: “I gladly gave up any guarantees… to see American Muffler in swashbuckling action, proof that resourcefulness is not dead, just flying under the radar.” Daniel Lee’s “Who Am I,” categorized as fiction, reads like a self-credo, or a confessional prose poem, or a rudimentary character description exercise for a creative writing class.

Previous contributors to The Brasilia Review hail from a range of backgrounds and disciplines, including novelists and nonfiction writers, MFA and PhD students, magazine editors and english teachers. Glancing through the previous issues, it appears few stories are set in Brazil, or penned by South American writers, and this is disappointing. Wasylycia’s blurry cover illustrations provide a beautiful backdrop for exploring chaotic, contemporary scenarios, but it would be refreshing to see some stories that are still rooted in Brazil, offering glimpses into the country’s particular brand of late-modern life.

The masthead of Brasilia Review claims that “translating writers from the Portuguese [remains] a priority,” and any Portuguese writer whose work touches on themes of modern identity, commercialism, or institutional power would be a perfect collaboration: an opportunity for Souder and Wasylycia to expand on their obvious artistic and intellectual curiosities, while also honoring their commitment to the local culture.

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