Monday, May 23, 2016

The Masses, May 1917

The end of the school year rush is upon me, so this note will be brief.

This issue of The Masses stands out as particularly full of fiction. Short stories dominate the pages, crowding out the usual essays--seven short stories balance three or four essays, depending on how you categorize things. I wonder if this is a blip, or if it signifies a change in the magazine's policy.

John Reed's "Broadway Nights" was, of the seven stories, the outlier. The other stories are representations of injustice, of militarism, of poverty, or some combination of the above--they are ideological tools as well as stories, and tend toward the sentimental. Lots of dead children. In fact, every short story other than Reed's has a child or a young man die, except the one where the child is abandoned. It is strange to have such a persistent pall of untimely death over the magazine, especially considering the many ways it appears.

Reed's story, though, is a modernist tour de force, a short story about the shimmering lights of Broadway, depicting New York as a surrealist prose poem, or fever dream:

The final sentence: "Why do you insist that there must be a reason for life?" seems almost a response and rebuke to Richard Aldington's "The Tube," which ended asking "What right have you to live?" Instead, Reed celebrates the murky underbelly of the city at night, and its strange paradoxes. 

That's all for now.

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