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Magazine Review: Backwards City Review

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Backwards City Review is a literary journal started in 2004 by five self-styled “refugees” from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s Creative Writing Program and is published in that city. Lest you misunderstand that these gentlemen think badly of the town and are getting back at it through the name of their publication, note this statement of purpose on their Web site:

Cities are built upon need. In the physical world, they collect around resources: a spring, a bay, fertile soil. Imaginary cities collect around ideas: a style of art, a search for information, a game, a movie, a band, a book, a political ideal. It is these cities, these backwards cities, that nourish us and make it possible for us to live richly. In our Backwards City, there is no mayor, and we eat all our meals at one long table. Come sample our dishes.

I’ve been sampling the second issue of Backwards City Review, which has received a number of laudatory reviews in its short life, and it’s quite a tasty stew of comic lit, poetry and short fiction. I found I was in the mood for tragic yet comic fiction, and a couple of pieces in the issue turned out to be especially to my liking. One is a story by Chris Bachelder in the form of a sports page account of a high school basketball game in which the Perlis Blue Knights trail by a point with a minute to go, but―apparently stricken by either fear or a moment of collective Existential anguish―pass the ball innumerable times and fail to take a shot before time expires. The sportswriter’s story is full of wonderful asides, such as

“Winning is boring,” said Clarence Brown, my first editor, before he died alone at age 54 from a heart attack. “You want the story, go to the losers’ locker room.”

Another short story, by Dave Housley, is about the coming apart of a small-town freelance clown. In addition to giving us the text of the actual “Clown Code of Ethics,” the narrator provides us with all sorts of clown detail as he gets into makeup and costume for what turns out to be a disastrous performance at a small-town Pennsylvania restaurant:

Shoopy is a happy clown, what we in the trade call an Auguste. He is the kind of multipurpose clown who can fashion a balloon elephant, pull rabbits from his hat, perform an athletic yet comedic pratfall, and maybe give that shy, fat little kid enough wonder to keep going another year. The kind of clown I could have used when I was a kid.

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