One poem, six little lines, and already there is enough inversion and reversal and physical imagery going on to make you dizzy.
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In Theater State, Jack Boettcher’s debut novel, published by Blue Square Press, the world has become what we wanted it to be. And yet, it isn’t exactly what we thought it would be. Although Boettcher doesn’t mention an exact year, it is clear that the novel is set in the future. A future where technology has made pretty much anything possible, the most recent development being a highway that grows and moves to adapt to the daydreams of those driving it.
Childhood memories, how important they are. The very earliest impressions we experience as children, the places we grow up in, they shape who we are later in life. It seems that, the older we get, the more everything we see and do and think stands in the light of those shaping years of first times for everything.
After reading Sex dungeon for sale, Patrick Wensink’s debut story collection that came out in Eraserhead Press’ New Bizarro Author Series I decided he could (and should) write a very good novel if he would just be slightly less all over the place. And in Black Hole Blues, he is. Slightly.
I hope you’re reading this sitting down, because I am about to dispel a widespread myth about literary criticism: there is no such thing as objectivity. Every reviewer has his or her ideas and preconceptions about what literature should and should not be. And most reviewers will, at times, confuse these likes and dislikes with the absolute norm – as if such a thing does exist – of what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ literature. The only thing you can do is to try and be aware of your own preferences and blind spots, and be honest about them to your readers.
‘Bill pours a glass of orange juice. He tosses the orange juice carton into the recycling bin. Jeanie stops squealing.’
These are the first sentences of Orange Juice, a tiny little 54-page, 8-story fiction collection by Timothy Willis Sanders. What the hell is going on here? It’s ‘slice of life’ writing at it’s best, pulling you into the story by raising a myriad of questions. Who are Bill and Jeanie? Why the squealing? And what’s so important about the orange juice that it names both the book and the opening story? At the end of the story, a mere page-and-a-half later, there are even more questions and very few answers and there is only one thing to do: read the damn thing again.
Sanders’ writing is all about making the reader feel what the characters are feeling. And what they are feeling, predominantly, is detachment. In ‘Rue-de-something’, for example, an American is lost in Paris. His companion is of no help whatsoever. He is lost and alone inside his head. Paris merely serves to illustrate this fact.
All this is served up in an elliptical, non-bookish and extremely visual style that really suits the subject. In these stories, people ‘laugh like a tall person’. Or, how about this: ‘She smiled and he shoved in his Bank of America debit card.’ The dialogue is the same way, realistic and gripping and associative and weird at the same time:
“Three hours, straight up stop and go, from Austin to Waco,” I said.
“Damn, really? Holidays dude,” said Arthur.
The most alarming story in Orange Juice is ‘Driver License’. A girl forgets her driver license at the protagonist’s house and walks home alone at 3 a.m. He worries when she doesn’t answer her e-mail the next day. So he e-mails her again. He looks up her address on the web. He looks at her house in StreetView. But it doesn’t occur to him to actually call by and check on her.
That is what makes this such an disconcerting little book: it points out one of the fundamental problems of how we live nowadays, social relationships having become loose and chaotic – or even optional – and increasingly replaced by digital surrogates.
Do Something! Do Something! Do Something!, Joseph Riippi’s debut novel, received some harsh criticism. Part of that was due to the fact that, due to its fragmented nature, it apparently lacked character definition and conflict. Another part had to do with the book’s hybrid form between novel and story collection. Now, I didn’t read Do Something! Do Something! Do Something!, so I really can’t judge. But I can tell you this: with both the fragmenting and the genre-mixing, Riippi decided to take it up a level with his next book, The Orange Suitcase.
A horror story is like a firecracker. When you start reading, you light the fuse and the suspense builds as the fuse smolders closer and closer to the explosive charge. Then, in the last paragraph or so, the story goes “bang”. At least, that’s how John McDonnell does it in this book. The thirteen stories in this collection are short or very short, with “Don’t You Just Love Weddings?” taking the cake with a mere fourteen lines (on my e-reader, that is).
Patrick Wensink’s story collection Sex Dungeon for Sale came out last year from Eraserhead Press’s New Bizarro Author Series, or NBAS.
The philosophy of the NBAS is interesting. Normally, the editor’s foreword states, Eraserhead would only have room for one or two books by first-time authors every year. By publishing the NBAS in addition to their normal schedule, they make a little extra room for the all-important fresh blood. There is a catch, however.