Reviews

Eighty-Sixed: A Compendium of the Hapless (Stories) by Brian Ames

Zachary Houle

I think it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that some readers might soon be calling Word Riot Press the Sub Pop of the book world.


Eighty-sixed

Publisher: Word Riot Press
Length: 196
Subtitle: A Compendium of the Hapless (stories)
Price: $11 (U.S.)
Author: Brian Ames
US publication date: 2004-11
Amazon

Jackie Corley and Brian Ames might not be two names meaning much to the average reader, but those interested in taking chances in the small press scene should definitely keep tabs on these up-and-comers. For those not in the know, Corley is a twentysomething would-be novelist and newspaper reporter from Middletown, New Jersey, not to mention the publisher of Word Riot Press and an online literary magazine that begat the publishing concern in 2002, Wordriot.org.

Ames, on the other hand, is a Missouri-based author of two previous short story collections through Virginia's tiny Pocol Press: Smoke Follows Beauty (2002) and Head Full of Traffic (2004). He also is currently one of the fiction editors at Wordriot.org, and naturally the author of this book of short stories up for review.

A word of disclosure here: the publishing world can be a small place at times, and Word Riot has actually published a couple of my short stories in the past. (Though it should be said that Ms. Corley was the one to approach me about reviewing this book after reading my bio on her site -- not the other way around.) Given that this is small press is seemingly being run from her credit card account, I agreed to take a look, if only to possibly use this as a way to also talk up a number of other ambitious Web litzines and micro-presses challenging the status quo in the literary world. You know, online magazines like Mcsweenys.net, Thievesjargon.com, Gorillamag.com and -- my favorite, title-wise -- Girlswithinsurance.com.

These sites, and many others like them that are popping up like rabbits all the time, should be commended if only for shaking things up a little bit and stealing from some literary thunder from the likes of, say, The Paris Review. By all means, I'd encourage as many readers as possible to go check these litzines out and support them, even if it's only an investment in time. I'm sure other writers working in the trenches would appreciate it, and I can honestly say you might be surprised at the quality some of these hidden corners of the Web have to offer up.

Back to the business at hand: Where Eighty-Sixed really piqued my interest is that it has received fairly glowing reviews from such mainstream publications as Booklist and Publishers Weekly, which is a phenomenal achievement coming from such a tiny, bedroom publisher. (The book seems to be doing quite well on Amazon.com, too, though one has to be careful about using it as any sort of scientific yardstick for how well a book is doing. However, Eighty-Sixed was hovering around No. 450,000 when I last checked, which is almost unheard of for a book from a press of this size.)

Stripping away all of these achievements, what about Eighty-Sixed as a literary entity in itself? Well, if you were to judge this book on its cover, you could say that it's extremely lovingly well put together for a small press item, which may conversely explain its relative success. My girlfriend even commented upon its slickness when she saw this book on lying on top of one of our bedroom dressers for the first time, without any prior knowledge of the publisher in question.

Once you get past the cover and first impressions, the secondary impressions are just as remarkable. I have to say that whoever did the proofreading did an outstanding job: The book is remarkably glitch-free in the spelling and grammar departments. This collection really seems to be one of those labor of love projects that had love and labor go into it in equal measure, which, believe me, is something you don't always encounter. Granted, some of the graphic design is a little busy, and the book's overall font is perhaps a tad too small for my liking; that said, though, for a small press item this is one of the most professionally put-together books I've ever looked at. And this is worth noting, for there are a lot of small presses out there who couldn't give a you-know-what about the tiny details.

As for the writing, Ames' style is probably best described as being along the same lines of a Charles Bukowski or Raymond Carver in that he writes concise slice-of-life vignettes about men -- usually down-on-their-luck mechanics, lumbermen, snowplow operators and bar hands -- who, completely obliviously to the world around them, are about to step into their own figurative bear traps. However, a fair amount of these stories, centering as they usually do around the act of big game hunting, have an adventure element to them that reminds me a bit of Jack London, if not a few gritty genre fiction writers mining the mystery or horror genres right now. (Canada's Edo van Belkom comes to mind. So does Chuck Palahniuk.) I'll be frank: This sort of writing either turns your crank, or it doesn't, and I'm not usually a big fan of this kind of brute man fiction. That said, the writing is so well accomplished, for the most part, that once I got into many of these stories, I really didn't care that they were about manly men.

Now, one would be tempted to think that this being Ames' third short-story collection in three years -- one running roughly 75,000 words at that -- there'd be some flotsam and jetsam. Well, I won't lie: A few of the 21 stories miss the mark. For instance, "Have Mercy on the House of Quek" is a fun title to say five times fast, but seems to read more as an in-joke than anything else. I'm not sure I get the point about "Arbor Day", either, which is a meandering story about birds nests and trees that is oddly placed second in the running line-up. Still, there are a lot of gems in the bullpen here, including "Monocle," a touching piece about a one-eyed man suffering from a humiliating rejection at the altar, and "Ajax the God," which is a compelling update on Hemingway's The Old Man and The Sea, except set in the Pacific Northwest and involving the pursuit of big game instead of fish.

In short, if you're interested in voices working their craft from the margins and want to bypass what the big publishing houses are racing to put out -- novels with some variation of the word "code" in their titles, more or less -- you really can't go wrong checking Word Riot Press and Eighty-Sixed out. According to the publisher's Web site, there's at least another new book coming in the hopper this spring, not to mention the fact that there's a growing back catalogue already on tap as well - which is really not bad for someone just out of university and doing this press on the side.

If Jackie Corley, Brian Ames and company can keep up the level of detail and love in writing, designing and printing their books, I think it wouldn't be a stretch to suggest that some readers might soon be calling Word Riot Press the Sub Pop of the book world. Perhaps, Eighty-Sixed could even very well become this press' Bleach. It's an exciting thought. It would mean, too, that there's a book-world equivalent of such groundbreaking albums as Doolittle, Zen Arcade or Loveless out there from other independent presses, and that things are about to get changed-up for the better in the rather staid, all-too-safe world of fiction publishing. Well, to quote one indie band from yesteryear, "I caaaaaan't hard-ly wait." And I hope, as a writer and lover of books, that you can't either.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image