Friday, December 09, 2011

Review: 420 Characters by Lou Beach

420 Characters
Author: Lou Beach
176 pages
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published: December 6, 2011

I would tell you what a beautiful book this was if I actually had the physical book.  I'm told it's lovely.  I'd requested a review copy and the wonderful (really) people at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt told me to just go ahead and grab it from NetGalley.  So while I can't tell you how the book feels in my hands or honestly remark on the wonderful design, I can tell you about the wonderful little stories contained within.

Lou Beach is known more for his illustration work than his writing, but that doesn't mean this collection isn't pretty good.

All of these stories were written on Facebook.  The title refers to the character limit of a Facebook status update and thus, each story is 420 characters or less.  This constraint forces Beach to be sparse and economical with words, generating atmosphere and leaving doors wide open for  interpretation.  Here's one of my favorites:

THE WANKER IN THE WARDROBE sits on my wife's shoes. He amuses himself by pressing his face into her wool skirt. He breathes deeply, imagines himself a bat flying through a humid night. Each evening we leave a saucer of gin out for him. One time we panicked when the dish remained untouched for three days. He'd been away.
There's so much here!   These people know there's a wanker in the wardrobe.  He sits on the wife's shoes and presses his face into her skirt, but is he there because he loves the wife or is it just coincidence?  Why does he imagine himself a bat when he puts his face in the skirt?  Why not a bird?  What is even meant by "wanker" anyway?  Are we talking about a masturbater or just an asshole?  And the wanker lives on gin?  Does the wanker ever consume anything else?  Where did the wanker go anyway?  And wait, these people seem to support the wanker staying in the wardrobe?  Does this wardrobe go to Narnia?

They're all like that in some way or another.  Sometimes the "story" is a little more solid and we're left to work out the back-story and other times it just feels like a bunch of images that are loosely connected.

I imagine a fun thing to do would be to pass this book around a group of friends, read a story aloud and then talk it out with your friends and see where it takes you.

I can't finish this review without mentioning the illustrations that are littered throughout the book.  Beach is a collage artist and his creations are often really stunning.  What I like the most about them is that they kind of mirror the kind of stories that Beach writes.  They're images that kind of go together but also appear somewhat jumbled and like they might tell their own story. Here's an example:

Overall the stories are really fun and creative and have a playful nature.  Their length really feels like their strength and I really enjoyed the experience of reading them.

Rating 8/10

Book Source: Netgalley

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