JL Bogenschneider


The Moon is Trending 

 

Flash, micro, nano… There are several ways to categorise a collection of fiction whose contents come in under a particular length. But The Moon Is Trending is described on the back cover as simply a ‘short story collection’, which hews to an established tradition of naming, even if the contents are modern, the very title being a mix of old (the Moon, formed about fifty million years ago, so pretty old) and the new (trending as a verb in this context popular only in recent times).

Most of the stories are very short, first-personally-narrated, with occasional deviations from form. Their narrators tend to be quick, uncertain of themselves, reminiscent of Elizabeth Crane’s hyperaware characters. The opening story, ‘WTAF’—in which the titular satellite does its thing—barely makes it past two pages, and by the end the reader doesn’t even know why the moon is trending, or how, but closure or trad ending isn’t a concern of this collection, which is made up of less glimpses and more blinks.

Intriguing openers about, such as the aforementioned ‘The Moon is trending…’, or ‘Nobody knew where they came from, not even the internet…’ (Large headless bats, if you’re curious, also never explained, and this not feeling like avoidance, or laziness, but an acknowledgement that there’s much in the world which goes unexplained, even in our information-saturated age.)

On that note, these stories are online. Not extremely so, but straddling the physical-digital divide that most of us do. Madness is quantified in terms of how ‘un-instagrammable’ a person is. Characters are addicted to their devices: The girl was absolutely not going to look at her phone because mindfulness. One narrator is filled with a despair so intense they go at least three hours without looking at [their] phone. They are online too much and know it. They dodge paywalls, account for every free article they read, and even then don’t really read them. The whole collection is wired in an appreciable way, the notion of terminal onlineness still niche and inapplicable to the masses.

These stories are also physical. Characters are confused by their bodies, in conversation and in conflict with them, intensely aware of their skins. Sex across the collection is real and visceral and conjunctive: …she unbuttoned her shirt and I unbuttoned hers and she pushed me back against the metro tiles, which were cold and slippery and hard, and we fucked.

There’s also a range of styles on display, a willingness to experiment with form, as in ‘People Also Ask’s’ Q&A format, and ‘Everything You Need & More>’ in which a supposedly life-changing product is reviewed online by a number of users.

But most importantly, these stories are fun, Fisher funny. Take ‘Stophanie’, a polyphonic eyewitness account of a woman called Stephanie who stops, literally freezes. Over the course of its sixteen pages we learn little about Stephanie, nor of the phenomenon that has arrested her, but much about the subjects a documentary maker has chosen to interview about it. There are shades of George Saunders, like the corporatized MoreCityProductivityPark policed by MoreCity Security, and WholeTruth Productions, and it’s ambitious to enclose such a strange and surreal subject in such a short space, but the success, the joy, is in the ride.

Little things count for a lot, like the conflicting spellings of schuzzed and szujjed, a word whose sound people accept, but about whose corporeality they can’t agree on. Or characters who might not know what they are, but know exactly how they feel. Or pieces like ‘So What Style Of Attachment Would You Call This?’, which I liked just for the title—very B.S. Johnson—but in which regular conversation between a nascent date has intense intimacies:

We talked, only, it did not feel like talking, it felt as if we were already inside each other’s bodies, as if we had been living inside them our whole lives…

…and in which also the titular attachment is as literal as you can get. These stories are surreal, but acceptably so, the way certain salesmen can acceptably turn into bugs.

And ‘The Real Meaning of Coffee’, a Brautiganesque tale in title and length (many of these stories are not unlike Revenge of the Lawn) and which contains lovelily long sentences about the vaguearies (sic) of queer dating; ‘tongueful’ silences, and the complexities of simple conversation.

Themes that run through the collection are bodies, relationships, queerness and sex; gender, protest, and leaky swimming pools, although not as mashed-up as that slim summary might suggest. The only outliers are a maybe-trilogy of uto-dystopic stories (‘The Big Squeeze’, ‘Last Dance’, and ‘After The Noise’, in which dancing is illegal, governments are headed up by ‘Bad Leader’ and ‘Worse Leader’, and joy is an act of rebellion) reminiscent of Jeff Noon or Isabel Waidner, and which feel like they could be part of their own, wider story.

Short though its components are, it doesn’t do to read The Moon Is Trending through all the way through. You’d think it’d be easy to read twenty-seven very short stories in one go, but it didn’t play out like that. I read one, sometimes two—no more than three—in a row at a time. It works to be dipped into and out of. To be picked up and put it down. To be gone back and forth to. To be recommended.

Most of the stories are very short, first-personally-narrated, with occasional deviations from form. The opening story—in which the titular satellite does its thing—barely makes it past two pages, and by the end the reader doesn’t even know why the moon is trending or how, but closure or trad ending isn’t a concern of this collection, which is made up of less glimpses and more blinks.

These stories are online. Not extremely so, but straddling the physical-digital divide that most of us do. Madness is quantified in terms of how ‘un-instagrammable’ a person is. Characters are addicted to their devices. One narrator is filled with a despair so intense, they go at least three hours without looking at [their] phone. They are online too much and know it.

These stories are also physical. Characters are confused by their bodies, in conflict and in conversation with them, intensely aware of their skins. Sex across the collection is real and visceral and conjunctive: …she unbuttoned her shirt and I unbuttoned hers and she pushed me back against the metro tiles, which were cold and slippery and hard, and we fucked.

There’s also a range of styles on display, a willingness to experiment with form. Pieces like ‘So What Style Of Attachment Would You Call This?’, in which regular conversation between a nascent date has intense intimacies:

We talked, only it did not feel like talking, it felt as if we were already inside each other’s bodies, as if we had been living inside them our whole lives…

…and in which also the titular attachment is as literal as you can get. These stories are surreal, but acceptably so, the way certain salesmen can acceptably turn into bugs.

And ‘The Real Meaning of Coffee’, a Brautiganesque tale in title and length, containing lovelily long sentences about the vaguearies (sic) of queer dating; ‘tongueful’ silences, and the complexities of simple conversation.

But most importantly, these stories are fun, Fisher funny. Take ‘Stophanie’, a polyphonic eyewitness account of a woman called Stephanie who stops, literally freezes. There are shades of George Saunders here, like the corporatized MoreCityProductivityPark, policed by MoreCity Security, and WholeTruth Productions, and it’s ambitious to enclose such a strange and surreal subject in such a short space, but the success, the joy, is in the ride.

Themes that run through the collection are bodies, relationships, queerness and sex; gender, protest, and leaky swimming pools, although not as mashed-up as that slim summary might suggest. The only outliers are a maybe-trilogy of uto-dystopic stories (‘The Big Squeeze’, ‘Last Dance’, and ‘After The Noise’, in which dancing is illegal, governments are headed up by ‘Bad Leader’ and ‘Worse Leader’, and joy is an act of rebellion) reminiscent of Jeff Noon or Isabel Waidner, and which feel like they could be part of their own, wider story.

Short though its components are, it doesn’t do to read The Moon Is Trending through all the way through. You’d think it’d be easy to read twenty-seven very short stories in one go, but it didn’t play out like that. I read one, sometimes two—no more than three—in a row at a time. It works to be dipped into and out of. To be picked up and put it down. To be gone back and forth to. To be recommended.

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JL Bogenschneider’s short fiction has appeared in minor literature[s], The London Magazine, The Stinging Fly and Ambit. Find him on Twitter @bourgnetstogner.
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Clare Fisher is a prose writer and Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Sheffield. They are the author of the novel, All the Good Things (Viking, 2017), and the short story collections, How the Light Gets In (Influx Press, 2018) and The Moon is Trending (Salt, 2023). Their work has been published in six territories worldwide, won a Betty Trask Award and been longlisted for the Edgehill Short Story Award and the International Dylan Thomas Prize.

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