I did not hesitate at all to buy the latest issue of Meanjin. Three main reasons:
- the cover, which features art by David Lancashire (which I hated at first, but then I realised it was bold, striking, and really different for a literary journal)
- Gillian Mears’ essay on how her new novel, Foal’s Bread, came to be
- Tom Cho’s looong story How can we reconcile the existence of suffering with the premise of a good and almighty God?
and three sub-reasons:
- the usual reasons you buy literary journals: to be surprised and pleased by new discoveries, to enjoy genres that aren’t on high enough rotation in your reading spread (that means you, poetry), to support new and emerging writers, to be informed
- other content that should not feel like it is being slighted in the least by appearing as a ‘sub-reason’, obviously that taxonomy was a mistake (I just love Tom Cho), including memoir by Melanie Joosten; a short ‘Perspectives’ piece by funnywoman Jess McGuire; poetry by Emily Bitto, who has written a couple of great pieces for Killings; a poem by Joe Dolce (yes, that Joe Dolce!); and a great collection of drawings by Oslo Davis completed during a residency at the State Library of Victoria
- a picture of Gillian Mears standing up on the back of a horse.
I ripped right through this issue – except for the first piece, Ewan Morrison’s ‘Why Y Matters: Mapping the Coming Consumption Patterns of Generation Y’, which I originally thought was actually a journalistic enquiry into the coming consumption patterns of Generation Y but turned out to be a satirical essay about the coming consumption patterns of Generation Y. I feel like this has been done before, and I’d actually love to make a bazillion dollars from my fellow Gen Yers, so I felt a bit unsatisfied after reading this.
The two stars here were, of course, the Mears and Cho pieces. This issue of Meanjin was basically a big old entree for my main meal of Mears’ Foal’s Bread, which I read straight afterwards. I challenge you to read her essay, ‘Old Copmanhurst‘, and not want to dive headlong into the novel immediately. The essay begins:
Much exclamation occurs when people realise Foal’s Bread is my first novel in sixteen years. Sixteen years ago I was about to turn thirty-one. From this distance that seems inconceivably young and I was inconceivably bewildered that only horses understood that something horrible had begun to happen in my legs and feet.
My first encounter with Mears was ‘Fairy Death‘, in Heat 24. In that essay, Mears described her experience being photographed by Vincent Long for his ‘Red Balloon Project‘. Having had multiple sclerosis for 15 years by that stage, Mears wrote candidly and beautifully about bodies, sex and memory. Since reading that piece, I’ve had an almost superstitious approach to her writing; I kept an eye out for shorter pieces, but though I’d never read any of her books before, I didn’t want to start from the beginning. I knew the next one would be the one I’d read.
‘Old Copmanhurst’ is another characteristically straight-talking essay that charts the trajectory of Foal’s Bread, from its guilty inception (the idea of the novel needed to be concealed from Mears’ sister Yvonne, who had also writen a novel manuscript involving high-jump horses) to its sprinting eventual birth years later. Again, Mears writes lucidly about memory, the body and her love for horses – a real treat.
As for Tom’s story, I’m not sure I can do it justice. Much of what I enjoy about his fiction is the dry, unfussy approach to dizzily difficult subjects. (His delivery is also sometimes wonderfully bone dry.) Here, he writes about robots in the year 2240 trying to understand the nature and existence of suffering. It’s a great first offering in the ‘Meanjin Papers’ series, which showcases one longer piece per edition.
I have never held much truck with the notion that making content free online (as Meanjin does) will necessarily cannibalise sales of a print product. (Well, we’ll see once I finally get a smartphone.) But the relevant question there is whether the consumer finds value in having spent the coin on said content in any particular format, and I certainly did: there is no question that this is a fine specimen of a print journal – wonderfully curated, beautifully designed and a special kind of immersive experience.