Color me not-all-that-surprised but Cloud City Press is still at it. Following up their first two publications—Filmpocalypse and Dragons Are Hung (authored by previous interview subjects Luke Marcott and Oliver St. John, respectively)—with Your Heart Really Does Explode, written by Cloud City staff editor Angus McLinn, the chapbook press is kicking ass with the help of names. Vouching for this merry band of young writers are the likes of John Jodzio, Peter Bognanni, and Ethan Rutherford, who have all vetted the newest offering from the chapbook publishers.
Your Heart Really Does Explode is a group of three loosely-linked stories, set in a world that is recognizable but terrifyingly unfamiliar, at least if you’re a regular sort of person who is not in love with a woman whose husband regularly gives her abortions, a snowed-in recovering alcoholic set on consuming the frozen body of a fellow “Self-Reform Activist” in order to survive, or an inmate who believes his mission from God is to murder the Lawless One. In these three stories, Angus McLinn has created a world where the holy and evil melt into one hungry, driving, raw force that leaves no one untouched by its twisted spiritualism. Laced with references to organized religion, odd historical sites, and nods to nihilism, Your Heart Really Does Explode packs a lot of bang for its size and price (only $5).
Beginning with “Preacher Sam, Rest in Peace,” wherein an unnamed narrator tells the story a hobo with a singing voice like God’s who makes Kochang County a tourist attraction for funerals, at which he eulogizes the dead in song, and ending with “The Modern Day Gospels of FCI Mediggo,” which follows an inmate on a holy quest to kill, McLinn flashes his story-concocting chops and gnaws delicately on the reader’s soul. Bogged down here and there by a couple narrative devices that detract from the story—such as the narrator in “Preacher Sam, Rest in Peace” telling the story with a cowboy sort of dialect (think Big Lebowski) that didn’t really work—Your Heart Really Does Explode isn’t about the prose but rather about storytelling. McLinn’s writing gets in your face and tells you a goddamn story without being gentle about it, which can be kind of nice sometimes, you know, if you’re in the mood.
Though all three are well-rendered and enjoyable, I found the middle story, “Twelve Steps is One Too Many When Your Legs Are Tired” to be my favorite overall. As the most straightforward story of the group, it’s the most pleasurable to read and serves as a breath of fresh air, offering balance to the chapbook as a whole. “Twelve Steps” introduces a recovering alcoholic, known only as Boss Ziegler, who is doing his best to keep it together as the leader of a group of “Self-Reform Activists” at the St. Ignatus Recovery Farm. It’s November, and as a terrible storm relentlessly dumps snow on the Farm, the group begins to run out of supplies, faith, and patience. McLinn’s writing style for these stories is to break up the narratives into sections, sometimes with sub-titles, and for this one, he breaks the tale up into twelve steps, but not necessarily the ones you might be thinking of.
Luke Marcott, co–founder of Cloud City Press, has said that they “want to publish work that wouldn’t be publishable elsewhere because it’s too subversive, or it takes too many risks.” While I personally don’t believe the work that Cloud City is publishing to be all that subversive, or all that risky—from what I’ve seen, it’s just good writing that’s on it’s way to being really solid, but probably isn’t publishable because it still needs some work, or because there is a dearth of literary journals not affiliated with a college or university—it doesn’t really matter. The act of starting a press in a literary Goliath like Minnesota is a subversive and risky all on its own.