Sunday, December 18, 2011

Lou Beach, You're Killing Me.

While I'm on a Hunger Games jag, I suspected it would be exceedingly rude to bring my borrowed copy of Mockingjay into the steaming bathtub with me last night. So I mussed up 420 Characters instead, which is also a shameful choice, since the packaging and production is so very nice. The paper itself has a lovely, smooth finish and the red bookcloth of the hardcover (imprinted with spare gold lettering) is just the kind of the thing that urges you to  carry it around, even though there's no need. But, at the tail end of the last show/market I have scheduled for the season, I was feeling wiped out and scattered. Would I really absorb more details from the (first volume of) biography of Henri Matisse, abandoned a few months ago? Hell, no. Super short tales it is.

With respect to the collective brevity of the volume, it could easily be read in an afternoon. But I don't want to be done. I haven't wanted to share so much of a book since I was all about My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me. Lou Beach's diminutive narratives are tantalizing and weird; darkly humored and sporadically peopled with hard-edged gangster types and hostile women. Phrasing gems made me laugh and exclaim. Take this:

Her ferocity left him indisposed to fight back and finally even to listen. She squinted, eyed him like a pot of boiling water watches a raw egg. She filled the salt shaker. "What's
the matter, Jerome?"

That's it! You can build it from there. But he has given you the heart of it, the volatile dynamics that will likely span the life of that unfortunate relationship. It'll all end in tears/rage/violence. Things, if not people, will be (/already are) broken. I love that the question superficially speaks to care and potential understanding, but is clearly a hostile challenge.

Elsewhere, a longer one (nine lines, whew!) begins: "The road clutches at the side of the mountain as if it's afraid of falling." A landscape instantly conveyed as dizzying and  precarious. Love it! These began as Facebook status updates. I wonder how many friends he gained, throughout the development of this project? I'm surprised to see he only had 161 subscribers. 

An NPR interview with him underscores my growing suspicion that practically all art I'm drawn to springs from collecting and layering. The piece informs listeners that his "inspiration for the stories comes from people walking down the street, hearing bits of conversation or seeing something on TV" before quoting him directly: "Because I'm a collage artist in my visual work, this is sort of the same way — the process of taking bits and pieces and putting them together until a narrative forms..."

But here's the one that caused me to burst out! Repeatedly! As if a rat-sized spider had just shot down to the bathwater:

I HAD NEVER used a chain saw. When I plunged it into the neck of the tree, it stuck and I pulled hard, fell backwards. The saw sliced off part of my scalp, deli style, on the way
down, then sputtered, scuttled away like a mad crab. I passed out, woke later to a low     growl. Lucky was lapping at the pool of blood next to my head. I was glad to see him, his
yellow eyes.

Aiiiiiigggghh! First, what a great setup! The first sentence has you grimace and shake your head. And then! the descriptive "deli style" and "scuttled away like a mad crab"!! Perhaps because I worked at a deli during college summers, it was especially effective for me: ohhhhh, those smooth, spinning blades peeling through *everything* like butter... And then the finish with the new threat from a loved pet...Kudos!

{This also reminded me of one of my favorite stories from Laurie Anderson's "The Ugly One With the Jewels" -- "The Geographic North Pole." Do check it out. And if you've never listened to the whole CD, you're in for a treat. Trippy, intellectual tales from an impossibly cool life.}
You can read more here and listen to Ian "cocksucker" McShane lend his rich voice to "Ikea" and others here.

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