Wednesday, December 21, 2011

30 Under 30-An Anthology of Innovative Fiction by Younger Writers

The title alone tells me that I may be too old for this by about a decade, but I jumped into it eagerly.  And discovered I'm a lot dumber and decidedly less hip than I had hoped.

Edited by Blake Butler and Lily Hoang
The key is "innovative" and it really delivers on that end...the short stories that make up this collection bend all the rules, if not shattering them entirely.  Metaphysical thought mixes with concrete metaphors, and the result feels inspired and youthful, even if it all doesn't make sense.  Much of it went over my head, like hearing only the punch line of a joke and nodding amiably but cluelessly while everyone shrieks with laughter.

However, there is some dazzling writing here, and three I specifically want to mention, because they all lie outside the typical expectations about "good writing" may be.  For one thing, the iconic story of Robin Hood and his Merry Men gets an experimental twist in "When Robin Hood Fell with An Arrow Through His Heart" by Todd Seabrook.  The gang falls apart after Robin's death, not able to even kill themselves with their own arrows, despite trying.  "The form starts to go when it hasn't been used," warns Seabrook.  Having reached nearly the half-way point in the anthology, I couldn't help but think Seabrook was commenting on the very lack of variety and inventiveness in other forms of writing today, suggesting its "form" has already started to go from lack of innovation.

Joshua Cohen proves himself the master of killer lines in his part of the anthology, with seven short pieces all made visual and distinct with tight and compact wording.  "On Location" delivers the line "It is a common problem in our cities today -- When you don't know you're in a movie that you're in." After the unknown director repeatedly coaches the good-natured resident, not an actor, on how he wants the scene played, he finally tells him "Just do what you did.  You were so much better before."  This idea of playing along with a different reality and having the simple images of role-playing and direction juxtaposed, Cohen has created an amazing sense of truth to an unreal scene in just a few sentences, and concludes with the image of "a woman so vain she wants to look good even for the surveillance cameras."

My favorite of the anthology isn't even narrative;  it's a instructional/inspirational piece by Adam Good, entitled "Guided Walks".  In this he describes what can be taken from meta-guided walks, and how the randomness of phrases and word blends can create a new direction or seed of thought.  With supporting charts as documentation, he shows how reading, walking, or visiting with another person (or all combined) can create a new vocabulary that feels more real and vibrant than one expects.  Something along the lines of what Amazon used to call "statistically improbable" phrases that become a signature of a work. Mixing and musing become an exercise in creativity, but giving a starting point for a potential writer rather than an empty prompt.

The entire collection is quirky and bold, but it's in no way childish or immature.  From it's elementary-school picture day cover to the variety of ways text is manipulated, the collection offers a valid and respectable perspective of creative writing that is likely hidden from mainstream writing venues.  Margins, backgrounds, formatting:  all are subject to experimentation, with one entry by Zach Dobson actually looking exactly like a Mead Composition book that he filled in during homeroom.  While I admit much of it was outside my realm of imagination, I loved the concept of changing or questioning the status quo of what can be considered creative writing, and making something solid and real that can endure as well something more traditional and mainstream.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds really interesting. I'm not sure how I'd react to all the experimental techniques -- I'm a classic kind of girl -- but I do admire people pushing the boundaries of any art. Thanks, Amy!