Tuesday, August 19, 2008

storySouth/John Marshall Daniel/Russell Bittner/Short Story Review

Nominating Editor: Jason Sanford

storySouth is an online literary journal focusing on writings from the New South. The journal has been published quarterly since 2001 and hosts the annual Million Writers Award for best online short fiction.

"Johnny Cash Beset by Darkness" by John Marshall Daniel is an amazing piece of fiction. Without giving too much away, the story definitely fits into our journal's mission since the tale features a lush Southern setting and disturbing traveling sideshow, making this a 21st century echo of the classic Southern Gothic Fiction genre. But where a lesser story would have dog-paddled in the warm waters of these familiar story-telling cliches, this tale dives deep into the cold, fresh waters of Daniel's unique writing voice. The result is a classic tale which stays with the reader. I can't complement storySouth's fiction editor Scott Yarbrough enough for selecting this perfect story.

Nominated Short Story: "Johnny Cash Beset by Darkness" - John Marshall Daniel

Review: by Russell Bittner

“Gaze upon the spectacle! The former love of her life, covered in fake hair and tattered clothes. Still life with piss bucket.”

Would it be fair to call this a coming-of-age story? Not really. Gordon, aka the “Beastman,” is well beyond adolescence, beyond the age of consent, beyond any age in which much of anything really matters anymore.

Gordon is a carny, a sideshow spectacle, or—as he explains to his ex when she and serendipity contrive to put her under the same tent with him—a showman. (“‘Carny,’” he insists, “is an outdated pejorative.”) And the more politically correct “showman” is exactly what he’ll persist in being right up until his ex shames him into seeing his life for what it is—at which point, he’ll walk out.

There’s ample opportunity for pathos in this story, but Daniel takes the high road from start to finish. His prose never rises above (or sinks below) a quiet intensity. At the same time, he demonstrates a mastery of carnival jargon, mores and habits.

If carnival lore is your thing, if the smell of cotton candy, hotdogs and sour relish are so thick in your blood you can’t ever piss ‘em out, you’ll love this story. Not many of us get a chance to peek behind the curtain of a carnival sideshow. Daniel takes us past the curtain and deep into the soul of one of its bit players—and then leaves us there to contemplate “a still life with piss bucket.”

Reviewer's Bio:

Russell lives in Brooklyn, New York. His poems have been published on paper by: The American Dissident; The Blind Man’s Rainbow; The Lyric; The Barbaric Yawp; The International Journal of Erotica; Wicked Hollow; Æsthetica; and The Raintown Review – which nominated one of his poems for a Pushcart Prize in November of ‘07. Another poem will be published once again in The Lyric (Winter, ‘08 edition).

On-line, his poetry can be found at: Quintessence; ken*again; SpillwayReview; Erotica Readers and Writers; EdificeWrecked; GirlsWithInsurance; ThievesJargon; SalomeMagazine; LauraHird; MadHattersReview; 3a.m.; Dogmatika; Mindfire; ALongStoryShort; OpiumMagazine; SouthernHum; JustusRoux; DifferentVoices; VoidMagazine; PWReview; Zygote in my Coffee; ALittlePoetry; PlumBiscuit (a journal of the New York Writers Guild); TheCentrifugalEye and The Linnet's Wings. Two additional poems will appear at Per Contra/”Currents” in the winter of ’08, and three will be published in The Ranfurly Review in March, ’09.

On paper, he has published stories with The Edgar Literary Magazine; The International Journal of Erotica; Beyond Centauri; and SwillMagazine. One of his stories was published by St. Martin’s Press in May of ‘07 in an anthology titled Next Stop Hollywood: Short Stories Bound for the Screen. An additional story will be published by Sein und Werden in September, ‘08.

In the dot.com world, his prose can be found at: DeadMule; writeThis; GirlsWithInsurance; SkiveMagazine; Bluefood; ThievesJargon; Quintessence; MannequinEnvy; UndergroundVoices; Pindeldyboz; Hackwriters; 10,000 Monkeys; DeadDrunkDublin; ALongStoryShort; SouthernHum; SuffolkPunch; VoidMagazine; VerbSap; Per Contra; the Canadian Writers Collective; SlipTongue; The Angler; and the uncommon Yankeepotroast.org. The story in Per Contra earned him a Pushcart Prize nomination in November of ‘06.

Russell completed his first novel, Trompe-l’oeil, in September of 2004, the first chapter of which appeared in Snow Monkey in February, 2007. (The same first chapter will appear electronically at The Rose & Thorn.com in the fourth quarter of 2008.) He then completed a novella-length memoir, Girl from Baku, in June of 2005, the first six chapters of which currently reside at DeadDrunkDublin.com. The entire memoir was also serialized at Dogmatika.com (September, ‘06 through February, ‘07). He is presently at work on two additional novels: Gigolo, Gigolina and My Cradle, My Crucible.

He can most easily be reached at RRBrklyn@aol.com.

Thanks for visiting Five Star Literary Stories and reading about this short story.

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