Just looking at these two local literary magazines, it's hard to imagine two more aesthetically opposed publications. The first print edition of the online magazine Spartan is minimalism personified: neat and trim, with the title in a plain black font running down the pure white cover. There are no illustrations; the 20 stories are all tidily justified and look as close as possible to a plain Word document. On the back cover, you'll find the magazine's motto—"Minimalist Prose. No Strays."—and nothing else.
Spartan bears no visual relation to the seventh issue of Les Sar'zine, which is colorful and elaborate and tries to overwhelm the reader at every opportunity. Sar'zine, the house magazine of local writing collective Les Sardines, doesn't look like a book so much as a tiny bookshelf, a golden cardboard box about the size of your palm, filled with six small, colorful pamphlets. Each of the pamphlets is made up of a single folded piece of paper and contains a single story or a few poems and at least one illustration by David Mecklenburg. Stacked together on a nightstand, Spartan and Les Sar'zine are so mismatched that they could practically headline a funny cop movie together.
But if you ignore the aesthetic trappings, the two books have a lot in common. They're both devoted to the underserved art of short fiction (most of the stories wouldn't even fill a single-spaced sheet of paper). They're both enthusiastic supporters of new talent. And they share similar tastes in fiction—you could transplant several of these stories from one magazine to the other without jarring any readers.
Mostly, what we have here are small moments of great importance. In Spartan, Tara Deal's "Meditations on Dilettantism" tells the story of a woman who is thinking about taking up gold-leafing as a hobby. As she waits for her leafing kit to arrive in the mail, she thinks of her grandmother, "who was desperate for solace and distraction after her husband died" and took up ceramics as a hobby. "She churned out figurines of maidens and cowboys and sparrows and squirrels that were cookie jars," handing the ceramic figures to friends and family in a desperate attempt to slough off grief. We never find out what loss is inspiring our narrator to take up leafing, of all hobbies, but the grief is still floating there, too huge to even mention.
They're not all delicately drawn, realistic portraits. Fred Longworth's "Sharks" envisions a world where "The sharks are everywhere. They perch on the parapets of office buildings. They leap onto the counters at drive-through windows of fast-food places. They hide in the bathwater and terrorize little children." (The narrator concludes, "I think there are too damn many of them!" The obvious always sounds truer with an exclamation point tacked on it.) In a small percentage of these stories, the symbolism gets to be a bit too much for three pages to handle, but it's on the whole a stellar display of talent.
The narrator of "Skill Certification," Maeve Stephenson's story in Les Sar'zine, could be a close cousin of the storyteller in "Meditations on Dilettantism." She's hiking alone in the wilderness after a bad breakup, noticing every time other hikers eye her suspiciously—doesn't she know hiking alone is dangerous for a woman?—and thinking disheartening things about how to survive a bear attack while telling herself overdramatic things like "I will die alone in the Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness of a busted heart."
Sar'zine tosses itself further into experimental and abstract territory than Spartan. Ada Ludenow's suite of poems "Naked" unfolds into a series of stanzas about items of clothing (a sweater inspires the thought that "Love is itchy, blue and comprehensive, and/your arms contain me") before opening to a "centerfold" portrait of a naked woman and a poem that begins, "We weave and we wear out. This is the procession of new days." When you tear something down to its barest components, the truth shines through. Together, Spartan and Sar'zine are evidence that the truth comes in all shapes and sizes.