Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). Dew is also a regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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A character named Frank “looks at Facebook,” in a short piece included in Frank Hinton’s chapbook. The Internet is almost always being accessed in these pages. This Frank, while looking at whatever he’s looking at, remains aware that his girlfriend, Lili, “has a really great body and she’s fit” while Frank himself, in his opinion “is ok,” which maybe means only merely and maybe means likewise. “Frank eats a lot of apples as snacks and does a lot of crunches,” we are told, so maybe he is also attractive, fit. As for Lili, “She’s so sexy,” we’re told later. “Her ass is so round.” Despite or because of the proximity of this sexy, round ass and its attached great, fit body, Frank sits at his laptop typing up fragments of stories or potential story ideas. One involves a pair of Zen monks who used to be in love and have books by Osho on their shelves. As Frank puts it, in his fragment or note or whatever it is, when these two “hump there is nothing tantric about it,” presumably related to the fact that “There are no entities, only processes,” though there is such stream-of-consciousness to these stream-of-consciousness sketches-within-a-sketch that cause and effect, let alone meaning, remains, at best, vague.
Frank and Lili end up in bed together, smoking pot, streaming an episode of a television show about crystal meth addiction. Frank repeats everything the addict says, echoing the character Frank in an earlier piece who “feel[s] a lot but express[es] very little.”
This piece is followed by a piece that may be from the perspective of a woman, then a piece called “All of The People In These Pictures Are Dead Now,” which is pretty much as advertised, with the slight surprise that this collection includes a picture of a college linguistics professor. This piece is followed by a piece from the perspective of a woman (“I have a phantom shaped like your dick inside me,” she says, early on, but then later everything goes bad, as in “I wanted to watch your hair fall out with cancer”-level bad). There’s a girl who needs to be “really drunk” in order to meet a guy; there’s a girl who peels off burnt skin, loses some teeth, some fingers. There are children who laugh in the background, maliciously, and trapped raccoons lured by peanut butter, and one piece channeling, I believe, the perspective of a pornographic image (“I will let you put me supine and use me as equipment. I will make the appropriate noises and let you finish where you wish.”). Earlier there was a piece from the perspective of a woman musing on the memory of seeing her father’s penis when she was a child. Later there is a piece about something else, though it is not always clear what, and the style, intentionally flat, too familiar, smells of several years ago, or has that non-smell that plastic wrap is supposedly so famous for, a lack of smell and a lack of allowing smells to pass. You could bundle a steak in this plastic wrap, one ad on television used to say, and show. You could bundle up a steak in this plastic wrap and toss it to a tiger and the tiger would treat it perhaps as a plastic-wrapped novelty, being in a cage, being bored, but the tiger would not realize that the bundle was actually a steak, a plastic-wrapped steak, and the reason the tiger would not realize this is because there would be no smell, no smell to the plastic, no smell of meat escaping through the plastic, which had sealed unto itself with a kind of static cling action, something molecular perhaps, something discovered or invented as a byproduct from the space program, the race to the moon, to put a person there, on the surface of the moon.
“All the really important stuff happens in the absence of cameras, all the real moments,” we’re told at one point in this book without pictures. That linguistics professor, about whom we sort of hear a lot, he apparently once “rolled in the portable television-VCR and played a video he recorded of his wife leaving him.” There is some screaming on screen, some rushed packing, some attempt by the erstwhile wife “to pry away the camera,” and then, as a payoff, a punch line, the prof, screening this in class, stops the tape and says to his students, “Authenticity is everything, children.” One suspects that Frank Hinton disagrees with this, or that, at least, he has some issues with the idea of authenticity, what it might mean or look like. Maybe the blank stare is as authentic as that stare which wells with emotion, tears, whatever. There is laughter in the world, then the possibly ironic typing of and “l” and an “o” and an “l”, etc. There are fit, round asses, or whatever shapes and sorts of them, and then there are jpegs or whatever kind of files, and these things are equally “authentic” I guess but categorically distinct in so many other ways, perhaps most strikingly in terms of how a person interacts with them, the limits and responsibilities implied, maybe even the level of self-knowledge intrinsic to the encounter.
There is a movie I saw once, on television, with mirrors at the end, a whole hall of them, and some other scenes, some early on involving boats, a particular kind. At some point in this movie there is a discussion that Frank Hinton might go so far as to identify as “Zen,” about the moon and how to point at it, about the use of a finger, for instance, as a means of gesturing beyond. All that heavenly glory looks different when viewed alone on a laptop that, I imagine, when one is trudging or half-hopping, doing that semi-gravity thing that Neil Armstrong and the others did, out in the world, offline. The authenticity of solitude, of an individual alone, his scattered thoughts, base or maudlin, half-formed: “Some memory wriggles,” concludes the first, small piece collected here, “I’ll try to write it down.” Perhaps this is intimate, authentic, a true moment, a portrait of a mind-in-process, wriggling, glancing from discussion board to girlfriend’s body. Perhaps this is process itself, without the pretense of entities, whatever that might mean. Perhaps it is hypnotizing, but maybe the dial tone is, too, though we are a generation now that doesn’t even know the dial tone, leading lives of direct connection, phones that are either calling or connected or not. The dial tone, the beeping that comes on, the automated voice instructing you to hang up or call again: this is an intimate, authentic, wriggling memory, too. I’m just not sure it’s sufficient; I’m not sure it’s enough.
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