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The awfulness of the writing in Threepenny Review

It's truly amazing how bad the fiction is in Threepenny Review. Let's look at a typical Threepenny Review story, yes? This is called "Shards." Now, keep in mind: This is what wins you awards in publishing. Pushcart and that kind of meaninglessness. I'd argue that if a venue like this thinks your work is any good, then it is probably the converse, and you are not going to find people out in the world who would think anything well of it at all. Let alone enjoy it, learn from it, grow from it, grow with it--different things; see their world differently, themselves differently, see anything in this life more clearly. People pretend to like this work within this business. And it is so bad.

These stories always read like they're written by broken, simple, completely unimaginative people. Note the one word title here. They think that's intelligent, because it's minimal. In the same issue, the other short story also has a one word title. "Dust." Wow. Great thinking. You can have a one word title. Certainly. But it needs to have some purpose, some oomph, it needs to work as a construct within itself; any good title is a form of a story. A story's whisper. It's never an arresting single word with a journal like this. It's always this rote word that is generic. You tend to get that, or the ubiquitous, "The (Common Noun)." "The Floor." "The Lawn." What these people will tell you is that they're being evocative, and the minimalistic approach is the imagistically stirring one. That's the standard publishing BS, though. They cannot think of anything interesting. When you can't think of anything interesting, you need to be able to think up lies and excuses to cover up your creative paucity. That's one of the ones they always go with.

I want you to look at the sentence structure. Do you see how flat, how unnuanced it is? Subject-verb, subject-verb. Do you remember when you were in middle school, and you had to read your book report in front of the class? You got up there, and your voice sounded flat, right? Robotic? You know those old school typewriters, how that person in the 1940s movie is banging away, and then that roller part comes to the far right hand edge, and they knock it back into place and resume typing? There's that da da da da da dunt, da da da da dunt, rhythm? That's how we hear our voices when we read those book reports. But as we're up there in front of Ms. Clarkson's seventh grade class, we're thinking, "well, it doesn't have to sound good, I just have to have gotten in all of my points, have the dates correct, it's writing, that's different than natural flow, that's a given." You make that caveat, that allowance.

But that's not good writing. Good writing flows more readily than anything on this planet. Than water. One of the marks of a good writer is that you're not conscious that you're reading writing. You are having an experience. It is both transportive, and it brings you home to yourself--more home to yourself than you were before you sat down with that given work.

These people think they are smarter than you. The people at magazines like this. In reality, they publish writing that is worse than anything that is out there. Or not out there. For instance, we all have our different skill sets. But your plumber, with his or her skill set, as a plumber, still is a better writer than this. You should almost worry if a journal like this one is taking your work, because that is going to mean that the people you encounter in life, were you to give them that work, would roll their eyes over how meaningless, and sometimes laughably bad, it is.

Remember the show Wings? Just this middling sitcom about two brothers on Nantucket, with an airline. Anyway, there is one episode where they go to a literary reading. This must be in the 1990s. And it's a total send-up of what a lot of people in that crowd are. Pretentious, untalented, the kind of person who writes things that people in this wretched circle pretend to like--well, to be fair, sometimes it's a case of these people having had their faculties rotted from the inside out from years and years spent in the company of this bilge, while also being terrified of life, of emotions, of having real experiences, and hiding out in their towers, hoping they are smarter than everyone else, knowing full well that they are not in that portion of their brain that gets at them the most, that little corner where the truth lives, and from where the truth haunts every last corridor of that person. And I watched this as a kid. Maybe chuckled mildly. But you know what? With the works the script writers wrote for this send-up (it's this open mic night kind of deal), this satire, they absolutely nailed the kind of stuff that a magazine like this prints. You could have had a person read something from Threepenny Review on that Wings episode and you wouldn't have clocked on to the fact that it was a real thing out in the world. Complete congruity. It's the stuff that if you say it to your friends, as in "check out this line in this story," or you said it aloud in your life, as something you say about someone you're observing, or you wrote it yourself and took it to any normal person, they would either howl with laughter, worry about you and if you've lost the plot of your reason, or tell one of your other friends you are a pretentious tosser, and that they feel a little bad for you, if they weren't laughing so hard at you.

And in that spirit, I want you to check out the line: "Papa sighed existentially." He sighed existentially. That is Ed Wood bad. A journal like this is this intellectual paragon? I am sighing existentially! You know who would know better than to go with that if they had written it? The fourteen-year-old emo kid who looked back over his juvenalia and thought, "Yeah, I'm better than that, shit that's bad."


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