Online Magazine Tells Us What It’s Like to Live Now
Niche bills itself as “an online literary magazine that was designed to be limitless. It aims to provide a place where an array of voices from experimental and conventional, pulp, and literary, non-fiction and creative nonfiction, graphic mediums, artwork, and audio can coexist. As people with varying passions, we have striven to find places where we can express fearlessly and belong unconditionally. We’re for those who have already, or have yet to carve their perfect niche within literary and non-literary communities.”
Unequivocally, Niche delivers on its promise to “provide a place for an array of voices.” The contributors are a mix of early-mid-career writers. Most of them have respectable publication credits. Some of them have MFAs, but by no means all. Contributors’ interests are quite varied; many of them are teachers (one a high school dropout who became a chemist and now teaches physics), others dabble, and at least one plays the oboe. Several of them have also worked as editors at one time or another.
The subjects of the work are as varied as the cast of contributors. Some of them (“Ok, Stupid,” “Finishing Up”) elicit a playful sympathy, while others (“Gringo Town” and “The Spared”) might best be described as sobering; only one of those two is fictional and for the life of me I can’t decide which one I wish weren’t true. Many of the stories grant us a glimpse into the lives of some very broken people, often from the perspective of those who love them. Of these, there wasn’t a trite entry among them.
I think this issue would have benefited from more careful copy editing. Typos and wrong words distract from beauty, which is frustrating because there is real beauty here. However, these errors were minimal, and I mention it only because I noticed it. I did find one major layout error, in which the staff bio page was reused from issue 4 without changing the issue number text.
If I had to pick one word to describe this issue of Niche, the word I would pick is “accessible.” Most of the content seems to be aimed at the 20-something (edging into 30-something) demographic, but stories like “Shuffle” have a cross-generational appeal that I think everyone can appreciate, from the teenager living through the prologue of divorce to the aged person who might enjoy a few minutes spent again among the childlike sense of adventure which amplifies every question into a mystery, best solved by spying on one’s parents (or trying to set your mom up with your best friend’s newly-divorced dad).
These stories have a timeliness about them which I found refreshing. There is no pretension here; just stories, from our world, lived by the people of today. Often, authors who seek to avoid letting their stories become dated strive to do so by cutting out any ties to the world-at-present; equally often, the result is a bland work with no remaining ties to the testimony of life. Not so with Niche. This magazine tells us what it’s like to live now, in 2015, with all the right references to make the reader nod his head and say “yes, I am reading about the world in front of me in this very moment; I recognize this.” There is an immediacy to this kind of truth that is valuable.
Niche 5 is a remarkably balanced magazine in terms of genres. It’s got everything: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, art, in proportions that feel pleasingly weighted. Prose takes up the majority of the page count, but poetry didn’t feel at all neglected. Fiction and nonfiction are quietly interspersed, and if the reader doesn’t want to know which is which, nobody’s forcing him; I’d believe most of the entries if they showed up in either genre. Art feels plentiful in this issue. I’m not an art critic, but I enjoyed the balance in the art—there is urban minimalism, there is the human form, there is even artwork inspired by Native American themes from my own beloved Pacific Northwest.
With each genre, whether art, verse, or prose, I never found myself longing for a break or change of pace; the layout kept me in a constant state of quiet enjoyment, as if every page was something new. This was a welcome change from some lit mags that seem to drag on when they put too much of the same thing in close proximity.
The design of the magazine lends itself nicely to this purpose. The overall visual theme in Niche 5 could be likened to crumpled digital paper, accomplished by a polygonal design that gives the impression of softness, but whose lines hold up as distinct and clear when viewed directly. Variations in background color give subtle hints at mood. The overall effect is gentle, but has enough structure to propel the issue forward. The typography feels cloudlike, giving the magazine an airy quality that enhances its readability; this is one of the few lit mags that I’ve ever been able to read through in a single sitting.
The textual and visual artifacts contained in this issue of Niche are above all enjoyable. As I read through each piece, I found myself genuinely saddened at each ending, not because the pieces were upsetting (and some of them certainly were that), but because they were over. I felt the same way when I reached the end of the magazine. Fortunately, this is Niche 5, so I have back issues I can go through.
Read an issue of this magazine. Do it now.
This review of Niche No. 5 originally appeared at the The Review Review during the Fall of 2015.