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  • Finding an Audience
  • Kristin Thiel (bio)
Self-Titled Debut. Andrew Farkas. Subito Press. 100 pages; paper, $12.00.

One problem with innovative fiction is that readers drawn to that writing are often repelled by that term. We like work that hasn't been labeled yet. We may understand the shorthand, universal need for labeling, in general, but we still don't like it. We know most labels aren't shorthand and universal at all because they require, at the least, contextual linguistic understanding. We appreciate rambling and/or exploration, as opposed to instant-coffee acceptance. And our collective "we," broken into individuals, certainly doesn't agree on one definition of "innovative."

But Self-Titled Debut won the Subito Press "innovative fiction and poetry" 2008 competition, so the term will lodge in the reader's mind, and she will wonder if the book is, innovative, that is. Its topics and formats have been done before. Using Keanu Reeves as a jocular trope: just plain hipster. But is the collection creative and well written, and might a reader who's reading while out on a walk forget where he is and stumble over a root-lifted slab of sidewalk?

The good stuff is reading and waiting from the very beginning. "An Immaterial Message" is why run-on sentences were invented and why paragraphs can sometimes go on vacation. It's difficult not to give away the story of this one-and-a-quarter-page piece—a college student wants to tell his roommate something, but he's too stoned to do so successfully—but it's just as difficult to give away its purpose. Farkas smartly but unpretentiously boils down college—stretches the metaphor to explain life, even—and lets this tiny piece of taffy snap back into one-and-a-quarter pages.

It's trickier to see the newness in some of Farkas's other stories: Even though "The Divine Plan: Notes for an Unperformable Mise-en-Scene" seems also to come from college, it feels more cheeky than charming. Farkas's skill may lie in the held breath of his shorter pieces. "Timbuktu" is a second-person narrative readers may not appreciate being dragged into. "A Name You Can Trust" blends first, second, and third person, but the perspective is always that of Lincoln, and while the story is interesting to read, it doesn't fill out all the pages it's allotted. On the other hand, "The Last Light You'll See" is the collection's long closing, and it's lovely, perhaps most simply summarized by the lines, "There will be singing and dancing. Dancing and singing together! Sdianngciinngg!" So maybe it's just that a story's seriousness can be swallowed more easily when it is fed to the reader by a pothead roommate than from a director whose leading man is God.

"Life Insurance," "The Committee for Standing on Shoulders," and "To Build a Fire…In Space" offer images that both ground and let the reader fly. In the first, the ridiculousness of insurance is explored by a drawling narrator in a Russian-nesting-doll–type fashion: his first lines—"They told me I'd been legally dead for three minutes. So I had to fill out the Death Certificate…But since I was alive again They told me I was gonna have to fill out a Resurrection Certificate"—progress without a breath into the even stranger. Perhaps the story isn't as much a blend of the magical with the realism as first assumed. It does connect nicely with "Delusions of Nandeur," the two stories together serving up the crazy from both the insurance agent's and the customer's sides.

In the second, the setting is a comfortable new bar—nothing but quiet conversation and pool. And "you had to get your own pretzels from a big old bin that sat to one side of the bar, but they were damn good…The names of the beers were colors: Red, Yellow, Blue, Green. That's all we had, but it was all right." But then the crowds started arriving, and "there was just this constant buzz of noise like to...


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pp. 24-25
Launched on MUSE
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