12 August 2014

Literary Journal Review: 'Line of Advance' No. 2

The Summer 2014 aesthetic of veterans-lit magazine Line of Advance is a bit punk, rough around the edges in a carefully curated sort of way. The gut feel is boosted by the Pepto Bismal pink cover, which features an ink drawing by Army Staff Sgt. Daniel Kasza, a five-time veteran of Iraq, plus a trip to Haiti.

The drawing, titled "Disgusto the Clown," depicts the apparent love-child of R. Crum and a Juggala. It could easily appear adjacent to the dictionary definition of "grotesque": "Comically or repulsively ugly or distorted." In the background, some balloons are laughing, others are crying. What's all this have to do with the military? Read on.

There are five stories and three poems presented in the publication's second issue, released in digital formats last week. Some of the short stories may be non-fiction—the editors have eschewed labels, or even a table of contents—but most seem to resonate with autobiographical authenticity. These are stories, written by soldiers and possibly for soldiers, even when they do not explicitly mention combat or service.

Repeating a technique established in their inaugural issue, the Line of Advance editors have also peppered their pages with paragraphs from earlier writers about earlier wars. Not to worry, however: There is a strategy and craft at work here, rather than just padding the page count. (For the record, the issue weighs in at 72 pages, including the cover.) The interstitial pages add both grist and gravitas, and careful readers are rewarded with historical insights and experiences that resonate with present-day military life.

In one example, Winston Churchill writes, "We are told that the British and Egyptian armies entered Omdurman to free the people from the Khalifa's yoke. Never were rescuers more unwelcome." [p. 28] Sound familiar?

In another example: Xenophon of Athens notes, "[T]he point to consider is, how we may get the fewest wounds and throw away the smallest number of good men ..." [p. 35] Roger that. We need more thinking like this.

The weighty classics also serve as touchstones to the 21st century writing featured in the issue. When George Orwell mentions an anecdote about a 12-year-old militiaman throwing a hand-grenade into a campfire "for a joke" [p. 53], for example, readers can make connections to the title of Mickey Tissot's short story "Obsessed with Spain," and also with Chris Whitehead's "American Soap."

Tissot's story illuminates a young teacher's attempt to navigate the garrison-like bureaucracy of his employment, where he encounters a series of grotesque characters recognizable to both teacher and soldier. And, like any good story about war stories, Whitehead's tale reads either like a sitcom narrative or a non-fiction piece. It's probably both:
A guy in Frank's team wanted to cook some food so he walked over and found a good place to start a fire. He lights a little starter fire and starts prepping his food. Everything is fine until he sees the fire start to flicker in the wind. Luckily a few feet away there are some crates he can use to protect his fire.

"That'll work," he thinks to himself. He stumbles over and picks up a box. It's kind of heavy.

He weighs it in his hands.

The box was heavy because it was full of mortar ammunition. [p. 34]
Absurdity and grotesquery are infused throughout the magazine: Former Air Force pilot David Buchanan tells a Hemingway-esque story ("The Colonel") of hunting alongside a murderous troll of a field-grade officer. Former sailor Travis Klempan relates a frustrating and familiar tale ("The Mule Whisperer") of waiting for Explosive Ordnance Disposal (E.O.D), in the company of an innocent animal. The story resolves suddenly and almost magically.

Poet David Pointer's narrator describes a journey from a home plagued by poverty and crime and dishonorable discharges, to proud peacetime Marine, to standing uneasy at the gates of Welcome Home. Anguish Cavanaugh begins a story ("The Blackness of Night") at Combat Operating Post Najil, Afghanistan, and ends confronting the Devil himself.

Line of Advance No. 2 is, in short, surprisingly cohesive and sophisticated, behind the pulpy comic-book garb. Sometimes dark, sometimes humorous, it most importantly delivers on its editorial promises, which were voiced again by co-founders Chris Lyke and Matt Marcus in the issue's editorial:
Sometimes, it’s easier to tell a story to a stranger, and trust that you’ll never see them again. This phenomenon has been captured many times on the page, but [we] think the following passage is on the mark. Hemingway once wrote a story about a vet named Krebs, and in it he said:

"Later he felt the need to talk but no one wanted to hear about it. His town had heard too many atrocity stories to be thrilled by actualities. Krebs found that to be listened to at all he had to lie, and after he had done this twice he, too, had a reaction against the war and against talking about it."

Line of Advance is not the only place, but we believe it to be the best place to tell these stories. Stories about anything really; the shopping, the job, the war, sometimes even ghost stories, without the need for vets to embellish, or feel disgusted, or as though they’ve cheapened themselves. [p. 5]
Line of Advance is right on target. Fire for effect. Tell your stories.


Disclosure: The writer of the Red Bull Rising blog also has two poems, "carry on" and "your convoy leader writes haiku," featured in this issue of Line of Advance.

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