Deathmatch: News from the Underworld

Deathmatch, a competition for the best short story, is on at the Broken Pencil, Canada’s long running magazine for “zine culture and the independent arts.”

Deathmatch pits two stories against each other and invites readers to vote for their favourite one. The winner of the round goes forward to semi-finals and so on. It is a bit like the world cup games, only with short stories instead of football! In addition, there is interesting discussion about the merits and problems of the stories, which help the readers and writers reflect and consider them from different perspectives (Not easy to find: you need to scroll to the end of the second story).

So now you know, please go over to Broken Pencil and read the stories: Field Guide to Kleptoparasitism, by Braydon Beaulieu and Floppy Discs, by Madeline Masters. And vote! I did, I voted for Field Guide to Kleptoparasitism. Why? Because it is an excellent story, well written, and with rich layers of meaning.

I will not attempt an analysis of the story here. Only a point that resonated with me. I liked the creation of the main character; Tony; to me a product of a marriage between Kafka’s Metamorphosis with Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. I like the nod to these writers, as I believe in literary genealogy and influence. We are nothing without parents!

While in both books there is a conscience and moral compass somewhere, in the Field Guide the character is skilfully pushed to a moral abyss, with no attempts at redemption.

“…The compound eyes or mandibles”, the predominance of the olfactory sense and consistent use of other animal features in the character’s make-up, not visible to others, such as his neighbour, suggest “animal” morality. Tony does not know better. He has reached the depths of the true heart of darkness. He exploits every single opportunity to his ends and so in the end, the reader is left with an ‘insect.’  Breathtaking!

The development is clear and linear. To me, Tony embodies modern man and woman at their worst: insatiable greed, contempt for others, random acts of envious and mindless destruction. We see flashes of this aspect of humanity in our newspapers every day. A  Field Guide is a complex and memorable story, not drawing back from the abyss. For a better understanding of ourselves, we do need stories that illuminate and explore the underworld of the human mind, “the social patterns of ants.”

I also liked Madeline Masters’ Floppy Disks. A very good story, exploring issues of personal boundaries, privacy and gender. The idea of making artworks of disks containing personal information is interesting, especially at a time of real concerns about personal privacy. Where Floppy Discs fails for me is in the character of Mridula not being fully explored; and in the changes of perspective in the story: jarring.

Visit Broken Pencil’s Deathmatch, read, comment and vote! And enjoy!