Sunday, August 19, 2012

Reviews of "I am Going to Clone Myself Then Kill the Clone and Eat it" by Sam Pink and "The Collected Works vol.1" by Scott McClanahan

Two collections of short stories I got the other day:
           Sam Pink is quickly becoming one of my favorite contemporary writers: his easy flowing, ultrapersonal sometimes surreal writing style is everything I like in writing: simultaneously funny and sad, apparently mundane yet touching on what makes us human. Plus he makes the art for his covers which I highly recommend checking out (and potentially buying, he's quite friendly). I am Going to Clone Myself Then Kill the Clone and Eat it is a collection of some short and very short stories from 2007 to 2009. They are rawer than the stories in Hurt Others or the second person narrative of No Hellos Diet. This is a very good thing for Pink. His manic highs are more grandiosely intense, the sporadic visions of violence more grotesque and absurd. Not as sad or introspective as the other works most of the chapters seem written off in a few moments, spare thoughts that came to Pink out of the blue. A few provide the instant gratification and cleverness which is so often attempted now (and usually failed at) in twitter posts. My favorite story was "Thing That Details a Trip to the Supermarket" where Pink describes an agonizing trip to buy food, his neuroses and obsessions constantly rising to the surface of his thoughts while he maintains a calm and ordered demeanor. There is also a little play between two family men discussing their lives while holding knives to eachother's throats. It reminded me of something that would come from some Franch Avant writer in the 20's or 60's and I would love to see it staged somewhere.
                                                In other news:
          Scott McClanahan busts out these really touching stories from his life in West Virginia with all the painful, funny, jarring events that come along with living in postcoal Appalachian. The stories look at events that occur to McClanahan or the burnouts that live in his town, where decades of poverty and crushed dreams seem to warp logic and reason: when a friend accidentally hits a deer (and it survives) it comes completely naturally to run it over again, then mash its head in with a thermos, and when McClanahan witnesses two car crashes he assumes he has the power to cause these crashes. There is a considerable amount of violence in these stories and McClanaham can switch from absurd hilarity to gore in the blink of an eye. He navigates the changes masterfully. McClanahan has this tendency to end a lot of his stories with one sentence that has "impact". This has a hit or miss quality that can make good stories great but after three or four instances of these I was left scratching my head and wondering if it was really necessary every time. McClanahan often addresses the reader directly and does it well. He makes you think, asks you questions, gives you his phone number...He writes like he's having a conversation and this brings you in, makes you care about the characters and his life. The first few stories have a particularly moral bent, not preachy but McClanahan seems genuinely concerned with and explores what makes an action "good": one's intent? the eventual outcome? He never suggests a right or wrong path but does ask that we look at our actions more carefully, and seems to be suggesting a jaded pessimism. At least toward the inhabitants of his town. He also touches on the modern taboo of religion, though ambiguously. It is hard to tell whether he is religious or not (it hardly matters) but it works in his writing and simply to have the balls to write what he does for a predominantly atheist audience is respectable in itself.  
         One story stood out particularity in which he explores those around him that have committed suicide, and posits that the drive to kill one's self is contagious like a fever and that by writing about it he has transferred the "fever" to the reader. I honestly found myself a little freaked out after reading this story but after a few minutes realized that this was simply due to the power of his writing. Anyone that convince you that you might kill yourself in the course of a short story is  powerful writer indeed. He's got at least three books out now and has two more coming out next year. Rejoice.
       Finally I just got on the boat of Keep this Bag Away from Children which is sort of the Journal of Alt Lit and has a print issue out which (among many fascinating things) has a great piece from Noah Cicero which I couldn't praise enough. Get it while it exists: this may be the holy grail of Alt-litana one day. Or perhaps just toilet paper, who can ever tell?

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