Fiction/86 ($7.95, The Paycock Press, P.O. Box 30906, Bethesda, Md. 20814), edited by Richard Peabody and Gretchen Johnsen, is the third biennial anthology of short fiction in book form from Gargoyle Magazine of Washington, D.C. Like its venerable counterpart, "The Pushcart Prize" series, "Fiction/86" offers the reader a glimpse of the cutting edge of the underground press in single well-edited and well-presented volume. Otherwise, you would have to track down the work of the two dozen or so contributors to "Fiction/86" in "Amputated Fingers," "Oink!," "Tendril" and other nooks and crannies of small press publishing. And a number of intriguing and accomplished writers can be found nowhere else.
"Fiction/86" is consistently readable and accessible, opening up little windows on the lives and loves of ostensibly unremarkable people: A young girl on her Confirmation day ("Confirmation" by Barrett Warner: "Your father gets serious. Once again, he's missed a part of reality and he's gonna find who to blame"), a couple of office employees caught up in an intimate conspiracy that transcends a mere love affair ("Watching for Nessie" by Elizabeth Moore), two girlhood friends who share the anxious epiphanies of growing up ("Jamie" by Kathleen Maher).
The point of the prose in "Fiction/86," as it should be in all works of fiction, is to turn the ordinary tools of narrative writing to the task of revelation. The writers who have contributed to "Fiction/86" are rather like the gallery-goers depicted by Mary McConnell Truitt in her story, "Gravity." "St. Clair had written a question on one wall in large black letters," she writes. "Trays of paints and brushes . . . sat on the floor for people to write their answers on the wall. The question was: If air, fire, earth, water and ether are the five elements, what is the sixth? People had already started writing answers in pink and green and red: stone, heroin, butter, algae, love, bones, gold, glass, sex, blood, soap . . . ."