This hefty omnibus is a collection of the last twenty years—and thirty issues—of The Minus Times, a literary journal (thought markedly scrappier and less pretentious than that term usually suggests) started by Hunter Kennedy in Slacker-era Austin, Texas. Kennedy and the magazine followed that particular generation to New York City five years later (mid-‘90s issues hold a Williamsburg address) and currently publishes out of Charleston, South Carolina. The preface to the collection offers a traditional anecdote about struggling to make the magazine happen while scraping together a life in New York City, but the details are telling about the way the magazine has taken shape. Kennedy was working at a major publishing house sorting through the “slush pile” (manuscripts sent in by agentless writers) and using the offices at night to pull down his typewriter from its hiding place atop a file cabinet and type up The Minus Times. His day to day was spent looking for diamonds in the rough (even though slush piles almost never yield actual book deals). His nights were given totally to making his own project happen completely on his own terms. More importantly—almost entirely because of his own unceasing effort—he published scores of unknown writers.
That The Minus Times is a labor of love comes through in every facet of the magazine, and his solid cast of recurring contributors seem to mostly be from the fringe. Occasionally, in later issues, there will be a token appearance from a member of the literary illuminati (Dave Eggers offers some bland drawings inspired by Barthelme, Barry Hannah submits to a short interview), but, for the most part, contributors offer rough-hewn and often experimental fiction. The trajectory of The Minus Times is one that works itself out backwards in this book. It started as a double-sided one sheet from Kennedy, mostly paragraph-long stories and poetry bordered by clip art. After nineteen issues, it expanded into a full-blown magazine. Yet the collection begins with issue #30 and works its way backwards to #1. Reading it cover to cover is like flipping backwards through a flipbook—the progression feels unreal and wrong, yet happens in a fluid, consistent motion. Where the book starts (#30), the magazine is something of a low-rent (I don’t mean this in a bad way at all) McSweeney’s, with a far smaller ego. There are short stories, comics, and much “cleverness” (this is where McSweeney’s comes to mind), a lot of which I could do without (although to be fair, the lists-as-fiction pieces were not nearly as grating in this as in that piece of pretentious garbage).
Still, even as the issues begin to get shorter and shorter (one aspect of the reverse flipbook effect), each offers much to sink your teeth into. Not surprisingly, many of the most solid outings come from the longest-running contributor: Hunter Kennedy himself. In one of my favorite pieces, he outlines and reminisces about a “very real plot to assassinate Ethan Hawke” dreamed up by his friends who felt his role in Reality Bites had turned society against their own legitimate slacker aspirations. It’s a funny, simple tale that holds much more beneath the surface, as well as being another good lens that the magazine offers us for viewing it through.
The Minus Times is a very serious and authentic attempt coming from the type of people who have been repeatedly sold over to external outlets to be made into caricatures and Hollywood archetypes, yet stay true to themselves throughout. What that is is nothing revolutionary. It’s just a good literary journal at the end of the day. Yet, in a small way, The Minus Times is still something that can be anything, a repeat firearm of potential, and what that actualizes into depends on what is put into it. Everyone at The Minus Times seem like nice people who would never shoot anybody, even Ethan Hawke, but, in a way, each new issue is a kind of gun that they’ve snuck into the premiere to take pot shots at what he really represents—and that’s society, maaaaan. –Dave Brainwreck (DragCity, dragcity.com / Featherproof Books, featherproof.com / minustimes.com)