Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Spike-topped lit

A punk rock press finds its legs

Posted By on Wed, Jun 14, 2006 at 12:00 AM

There are books that make their way into our lives that we simply want to like; for instance, books written by friends, or books given to us by friends, who boldly claim, “This book saved my life.” Sadly, not all of them turn out to be as good as we might like them to be. And there are those other books, too, that we want to like because of what they stand for, or in some cases, what they stand against.

One such book is a first novel by Kristopher Young, Click, recently published by Another Sky Press. Let me explain why I really want to like this book; why I want to sing the praises of it, and its publisher.

Another Sky Press is punk publishing. It’s a press on a mission to, in its own words, “subvert the traditional publishing paradigm and do it our way.” How can we not want to go to bat for a couple of young West Coast punks who are doing their best to stick it to the man?

Yes, there’s something punk rock about Another Sky Press, not punk in a big label sort of way, more in the way of, say, Minor Threat, a band that, like a lot of other hardcore punk bands back in the early ’80s, started its own record label to put out their own records on and, unlike most other indie labels, turned their love for music into profit.

Another Sky Press is even more punk than the punks at Dischord Records. You can visit their Web site — anothersky.org — and download their books for free. (So far the lone book available is the title currently under review here.) If you like what you see, they hope you’ll be altruistic enough to support their cause by buying the book, either at cost ($5.90) or, if you’re feeling especially generous, making a donation that goes directly into the hands of the artist and the press. And by getting rid of the middleman, bypassing the folks at amazon.com or Barnes and Noble, your donation goes straight to the source (the youngish, punkish writer).

But the problem is Another Sky Press’ inaugural venture. What Click has going for itself is a raw and urgent narrative voice, screaming at us from the pulpit of the page. This is the voice that meets us, not necessarily greets us, at the book’s door:

 

i’m down the stairs and out the door. i’m shaking, explosive,

i want to run up to strangers, grab them by the shoulders,

tell them i’ve got it all figured out. i want to lay spread-eagle

in the middle of the street making asphalt angels to the

sound of blaring horns. i want to dance naked to the city’s cacophony.

 

This is a voice that reaches out and goes right for the jugular, which is a good thing for a book, for a writer, to be aiming for, straight out. A good book needs to lunge out at the reader from the get-go; it needs to be a pit bull, wanting to be unleashed. But the voice needs, also, to go somewhere, to take us into places that we might not want to go. This is where Young hits short of the mark. He takes us on an urban journey into the interior world of a young cliché. Listen to this passage to hear where and how this book doesn’t click:

 

so I’m left alone sprawled naked across my bed, searching

for memories of who i used to be and who i am, briefly

latching on to my quickly fading dreams. but i can’t hold

on and fragments of my waking life start to take their place.

i try to piece them together, jamming them into an impatient

jigsaw puzzle, trying to make sense of the conflicting rumors of my existence.

 

At its best, the voice behind Click is angry, full of adrenaline and speaking out to bear witness, to make sense out of a schizoid world, to get to the source of what it means to love and to be loved, to figure out what it means to be human. Yes, at its core, this book is a love story, a portrait of the artist as a young man, a young man who is struggling with mental glitches, a character who is not unlike a prototypical protagonist in much of Beckett’s work. But at its worse, the voice belonging to the anonymous narrator can be described as Charles Bukowski meets and gets mangled with Chuck Palahniuk. The narrator takes dips, and we are struck with sentences that are saddled by sentimentality, such as “i’m a deer in headlights.”

As a reviewer, wanting to like this book and the idea behind this book and the press that made this book public, I’d like to end this review with these words that appear near the end of Click: “i’d give this a happy ending if i could. and i can. so i will. sort of.”

As a writer, I’d also like to borrow Young’s words when he writes:

 

i don’t have all the answers. i’m not even sure i have any.

i just know that something needs to be done. anything.

somebody needs to set the world on fire while everyone’s

asleep, and it might as well be me. a new start. a new blank slate.

 

Gordon Lish once wrote, “A novel fails if everything is not annihilated by the writing of it. But what if the best the writer can do is get no better than himself bumped off? Could this be what they mean by plot?”

I’m not going to ruin the novel’s ending, but I will say that it ends, just as it begins, with a trigger’s click. I will go so far as to add this: Go on ahead to the Another Sky Web site, and click the “read it (for free)” link. If you like what you read, you can buy the book or maybe you’ll like it so much you’ll want to tip the writer a couple of bucks. In the end, it’s up to us to keep books and small presses alive.

Peter Markus is a poet and freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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