The Week You Weren't Here by Charles Blackstone

Valerie MacEwan

Critics must be fair in their evaluation of a book and they must explain their disappointment or their joy. They should, from time to time, recommend that others give a book a try -- that their analysis is not the final word.

The Week You Weren't Here

Publisher: Flame Books
Length: 326
Price: £8.50 (UK)
Author: Charles Blackstone
UK publication date: 2003-10

Jagged, flowing in spurts, sometimes fragmented -- Charles Blackstone's narrative flows more like the Rio Grande than the Mississippi. In Blackstone's debut novel The Week You Weren't Here, readers attempt to unravel the jagged, skewed thoughts of Hunter Flanagan. This novel is like a cross-pollinated kumquat -- derived from a new crop of experimental fruit -- difficult to taste and sometimes hard to chew. Blackstone uses no punctuation other than the period and an occasional paragraph indent or dash. As the reader gets farther and farther into the book, one of two things will happen. Either the rambling incoherent phrases will begin to congeal and become an apparent whole or they will just keep going on and on in an endless progression leading nowhere.

Hunter Flanagan is looking for true love. It eludes him. He examines everything. His e- mails, t-shirts, and conversations. His dreams. Hunter is a mass of contradictions his thoughts are contradictions of loathing and affection laughing and living of what is called a juggernaut of a young life.

As a critic, I have to confess, I got nowhere. I tried three times to get farther into Blackstone's book than the first 60 pages but honestly, I could not. To tell you otherwise would be pandering. That said -- in the hands of another critic, perhaps a fan of experimental fiction, or a devotee whose taste include writers who go for typographical and linguistic tricks, and perhaps a bit of non-linear storytelling -- this book might just rock. Critics must be fair in their evaluation of a book and they must explain their disappointment or their joy. They should, from time to time, recommend that others give a book a try -- that their analysis is not the final word. This is my take on Charles Blackstone's The Week You Weren't Here. I challenge some of you (just some, because it is not for everyone) to order this book and try it. To find the thread of conversation and follow it through to its conclusion. And for those not convinced they should try, a sample:

What he did in fact tell her in the dream was that he had something really important to say and that he hadn't told anyone yet and that wasn't a lie.

What she asked gently probing her in her sort of insistent charming sort of way.

I don't want to say it's embarrassing he said.

You can tell me she said so fucking persuasive practically detasseling his stupid pride right there and wait he thought maybe she'll want to sleep with me ditch the slab if I tell. She'll be so fucking moved by how totally depressing sad ruined dejected trampled upon I am that she'll want to -- no she'll definitely think what a loser couldn't even didn't have what it took to --.

And by reading Blackstone's book, you will follow the mind of Hunter Flanagan "on his journey from living in side his head into the outside world." Or, to quote the book jacket, "Through postmodern prose that unravels jaggedly like a spool of live wire, the narrative seeks to make sense out of his landscape, as it reveals it to be a fragmented, overlapping, entangled juggernaut of a young life" and maybe you, the reader, is that someone out there who can unravel it. It's worth trying.

About the publisher:

Like Altoids, Matthew Ward and his new Flame Books publishing company are curiously strong. This new small press in the UK offers its authors 10% of the book sales, a direct contract with no agent needed, and promises to premiere books by "new" writers every two months. Titles are sold through the publisher's website. And it's not just the publisher and the author who benefit from sales -- a portion of the proceeds go to various literary and human rights causes.

What sort of causes would a publisher support? Well, The "Living Rights: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Stories and Poems for one. Flame Books, in association with PeaceLit, will "publish a three-volume collection where each article of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) will be illustrated by a piece of creative writing. By presenting the Declaration in a variety of artistic forms we not only want to create a beautiful work of art but also hope to draw attention to, support and highlight Human Rights." Another project, the magazine "Who Cares? A National Magazine for Young People in the Care System" is centered on the improving public care for children in foster homes or separated from their families, and is written for 10 - 18 year old readers. Flame Books is currently sponsoring a creative contest to help raise funds for Who Cares?.

Ethical publishing. In a recent email conversation with Ward, I asked him about his vision for Flame Books and the ideas behind his unique publishing company.

Ward told me ethical means Flame publishes new writers, offers them fair contracts and supported various causes through their books sales. "So, on the one side we don't see any point in working against authors, i.e. by offering a strangling and unfair contract -- they are the creators of the work after all! On the other hand, we want to support creativity at all levels by putting money into various projects after sales on the site," he said.

When asked why Flame sold their titles only through their website and not a mega-store like Amazon or Barnes and Nobles he responded, "By selling on the Internet, we are trying to shorten the long chain in book distribution, not just transferring a normal business model onto the Internet as most companies do. By creating a new relationship between reader-writer, the reader gets great new fiction from talented new writers and the author gets higher royalties (at least 10% of the RRP). We can also put some money aside for different projects after every sale. As the sales increase, we hope to publish more writers and create projects of our own -- fingers crossed!"

Virtual companies seem commonplace in 2003. Writers meet online, administrators administrate from far away offices, never really having a face-to-face. I've been writing for PopMatters since the beginning, working with literally hundreds of writers who contribute to the site, and I've yet to meet anyone personally. Matthew Ward's attempt to create a publishing company through the Internet, not of e-books but of paper and print, is in keeping with what we have come to expect from business. One of the biggest problems, as I see it, is the office party. I asked Ward how he planned to have everyone get together for the holidays. "Good question! It's very hard as everybody is in different places! -- for example, I live in Stockholm, our designer in Italy, and the authors in the UK, Spain and Chicago! So although the parties are postponed for the moment, once we sell a few books and win a few prizes, everybody will be flown in for one big party!"

So, looks like we'll have to wait a while for the throw-down, but hopefully Flame Books and its authors will get together soon. An amazing new attempt at collaboration -- publisher and author -- and no one in between. Another interesting Internet experiment.





Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.