Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, forthcoming 2010), and Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, forthcoming 2010). Dew is also a regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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When he realized the <3 was a heart, Russell didn’t type anything.
Susan watched Reynard’s emoticon turn right-side up and burst into yellow, a full cartoon wink. She wanted to ask him how he’d done that, but she didn’t. They chatted, then he had to leave for a gig. He signed off. For a few minutes, Susan sat there highlighting the text of the chat. Clicking it off and highlighting again.
When, as the above quotes indicate, characters in this collection become “friends on the internet,” it is, at best, a remote friendship, outside of relation, truth, time, and place. The faces they have in mind and on screen tend to be misidentified, and, even more than in awkward, in-room conversation, words linger, or gestures at signs, a less than, a three, an animated cartoon in garish yellow, the color of poisonous bugs. The characters in this collection are, likewise, often alone, even if they’re in VFW Hall surrounded by drunks. “Like everyone who needs to talk, we don’t,” one such character observes of his condition, but even the silence is deafening, drowning out the possibility of communication or contemplation. “In rooms of total silence,” another man remembers a television program as informing him, “...with all sound engineered away, you can still hear two things: blood circulation, which makes a low thrum, and the nervous system, which makes a kind of weak mew.” These are Young’s tones, too; as the punk band might assemble on stage with but a couple of chords and a certain motivating disgust, so Young takes to the page with the thrum of life and the mew of nerves, chronicling small town supermarket culture, the new media of voyeurism and exploitation, the kegs in the quarry, the abandoned babies in the medicine cabinet, the waves of drop outs and all the sordid and assorted “dented forks and freezer smells” of life.
In Look! Look! Feathers, random sexual liaisons smell of insecticide and “hippoesque” high schoolers debate one of their own’s claim that a growth on his hand allows him to access the Internet in his mind. Folks make livings airbrushing acne out of photographs, fake archeological discoveries, make weary blowjob jokes in machine shop class, set off in R/Vs to live fresh or find themselves at a birthday party that is a really a cannibal event. As the narrator of the story about the possibly Internet-accessing growth says, “Pretty much every time I make a joke it makes me sad, which I guess is attractive or something because I’m going to go drinking next weekend with a bunch of emo chicks.” There’s probably an emoticon for that, and sooner or later he’ll ponder it, in the subtly screeching silence of a lonely room, and either feel one way or another or get drunk. “The night was a bitch we couldn’t tame,” another narrator says, but it’s as true of life as the night, though that night offers a certain hyperbolic condensation of life, which is what fiction’s about anyway. To quote the book again, “Here’s life, somewhere in its own marginalia,” which is to say, somewhere between bloodying up your knuckles and eating fluff out of the jar with your fingers, at some point between cleaning up the mess of peach cocktail syrup and seeing the computer screen flash the choice between restart and restore, there are some moments deserving of their own kind of highlighting, their own preservation, and Young captures a handful here, the way a kid might capture a fist of gravel as he slips on an embankment and falls and falls and falls.
Official Mike Young Web Site
Official Word Riot Press Web Site