Any journal that actively houses early-career writers will inevitably face a challenge in providing a space for new voices, while still delivering a product of high literary standard. On occasion, this sort of journal can appear to suffer from a primary-school egalitarianism where everyone gets a go. Rex #4, The Odds & Ends Issue, while offering up some wonderful writing, has not, however, entirely overcome this challenge.
Rex emerged from QUT’s Creative Writing and Literary Studies disciplines, and showcases new writing from QUT undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as writers from around Australia. Highlights include Michelle Law’s travel pseudo-memoir (its status as fiction or non-fiction is unclear) ‘Going Solo’, offering a welcome break to the humourless tone of some earlier stories. Ellen Kirkpatrick’s ‘Princess’ is a heart-rending piece of flash-fiction that mixes fairy-tale wonder with the brutal realities of modern life, without sinking into sentimentalism or nostalgia. Daniel Lynch’s ‘Mutts With Table Manners’ presents a postmodern narrative that blends the author’s life into the heartwarming exploits of his fictional avatar. Sian Prior’s inventive essay ‘Shy Young Thing’ explores the everyday difficulties of debilitating shyness, while Vivienne Muller lets fly in her wonderful poem ‘Germaine Greer at the Sheraton’.
The varied tones and styles of these pieces make for fascinating, intelligent, and entertaining reading, providing the comforting feeling that the future of Australian writing is in capable hands.
Unfortunately, some of Rex #4 is weighed down by stories whose formalist strings are a little too visible. The modernist tendency to eradicate character and plot, basing a story around an abstract symbol or vague emotion, remains a common conceit of literary short fiction. Thomas Pynchon, critiquing his own early work (and borrowing from Hegel’s Aesthetics) says, ‘It is simply wrong to begin with a theme, symbol, or other unifying agent, and then try to force characters and events to conform to it’, and sections of the journal seem to suffer from this exact stylistic puppetry.
My main concern with Rex #4 is that a number of the pieces are accompanied by a mini exegesis. These are, at best, of academic interest but at worst, they are tedious and pompous pontification, replete with tired sporting metaphors and new-age spirituality. I personally feel that in a literary journal, the writing should be able to speak for itself.
The Odds & Ends Issue seems an appropriate title. Rummaging through any op-shop bric-a-brac, you will find your share of cast-offs but you will also find pieces that intrigue and stimulate.