Disclosure: I was approached by Dan Reilly and asked to review The Rag and given a free copy.
The Rag is an online literary journal specializing in gritty and transgressive literature. The pieces are mostly longer pieces, which I liked. I am more interested in longer more developed short stories than in Flash Fiction, which is exceedingly hard to write well. There is also poetry scattered throughout. I don't have a great familiarity with poetry other than the great epic poems, but I have some favorites here.
As one might expect, the quality of the submissions varies quite a bit. At its worst, there are some pieces that feel a bit like the writer is trying to write in a gritty way because it is cool. However, those pieces are relatively few. There were several standout pieces for me.
My favorite piece was "Not Giving To The Alumni Fund" by David Blanton. The piece describes a recent graduates slide into petty fraud and is an excellent piece. It had a casual reality to it. The prose style was naturalistic and unforced and had a kind of quiet confidence to it. The internal psychology of it was convincing It's just a really well written piece.
"Zeke Stargazing" by Rachel Kimbrough is the second best piece. Wavering between the mundane horrors of the working class and surrealism it is a piece that leaves the reader struggling to find the right reading attitude towards it. I mean this as a compliment. It has a fantastic scene with a dog and a toe.
"Vibrancy" by Marcus Emanuel is written in the second person, which is very hard to do, but is pulled off well here. It concerns a high school teacher's crush on one of his students, although it peters out in a not entirely satisfactory way.
"Passing Through" by Jack Varvill I should probably mention also. It is set in downtown Toronto, where I live, and has people in it that I have met, and it is all real enough, but like some of the other pieces does not quite push through into being something really special, but shows potential.
The art in this edition of The Rag is by Meredith Robinson and unifies the whole thing and suits the tone of the journal perfectly.
In general, the Transgressive pieces are better than the more Noir pieces. Good Noir writing is very hard to do because it can easily degenerate into having nothing to say while having a veneer of hard boiled grittiness over top.
If we look at The Rag as a whole, it is well worth the time reading it. I strongly feel that Transgressive literature is an under appreciated genre, and that while it is a very old genre, dating back to Petronius' "Satyricon" it is a promising area for literature to advance in. An ebook literary journal, that is well put together and advances this genre is needed. Also, The Rag pays its writers. Not only is it nice to see writers being paid for their work, but there is something about the exchange of money, that shows the whole thing should be taken seriously and isn't just noodling.
That the project is meritorious does not of course mean that you should spend your own money on it. In the past, I've only dabbled with literary journals, because I've always thought things like "Why am I reading this when, I haven't read, say, Faust yet?" Increasingly though, I've become interested in where writing is going now, and what is good and bad about current literary trends. The biggest success of The Rag for me, was that it made me think about that intensely. A lot of current short literature is about married couples fighting about doing the dishes or other such things and while that can be worthwhile, most of the time it isn't. I find that when one is reading the Latest Important Novel it is often a disappointment and it is more interesting to be at the front line of writing and to see what is going on there. The Rag put me on the front line and it makes me want to come back. It made me think about writing now. That's the best thing about it.