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NewPages Book Reviews

Posted December 1, 2008

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  • Book Type Novel
  • by Zach Plague
  • Date Published July 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0-9771992-5-9
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 273pp
  • Price $14.95
  • Review by Jody Brooks
Note: All character name fonts have been approximated by the reviewer. Font-play isn’t her specialty. Forgive any stylistic discrepancies.

When Ollister’s infamous gray book goes missing, he and his love interest Adelaide plot revenge against The Platypus, head of the art mafia in a city dominated by the quest for talent. Adelaide obsesses over Ollister, the art school kids theorize about bad art, and a punk named PuNk introduces a potent sex drug. These anarchist art school teens come together in a frenzy of ennui to gossip about the sinister White Ball, hosted by none other than The Platypus and guarded by the White Sodality. Rumor has it that the art terrorism movement plans to crash the party and cause a postmodern uproar.

The plot circles around Ollister’s elusive gray book which is full of something that will rock the art world to its very core. It’s full of stuff and things and whatnot that, if revealed, will bring The Platypus and his adult art empire crumbling to the ground. Problem is, we never find out what’s in it. And despite the intriguing sound of that idea, this is no successful MacGuffin.

Ollister is a threat to The Platypus empire because he wants to – and knows how to – create something new, something beautiful. Something beautifully and painfully new. So, I ask, where is it?

Plague’s novel is postmodern art about postmodern artists titled Boring Boring – therefore we expect a satire that is anything but. On the visual level, Boring Boring is a satire of the art world, and, as such, uses the visual to hint at many levels of design absurdity – the overwrought, scrolling chapter headings; the excessive highlighting and italicizing of “meaningful” words; the use of different font types to represent different character personalities. This, I get. This is a novel idea. But underneath the catchy visual satire, there still has to be a good story. Underneath a novel idea, there still must be a novel. And this is where Boring Boring fails.

The concept is intriguing, I’ll admit. And many of the images are beautifully rendered:

His nose had been broken so many times that it looked like it had never been broken at all, or rather that it had stopped growing when he was about 7-years-old. It was small and squat, and the interior was regularly exposed to view. A viscous cache of hair and bloody mucous that required a constant sniffling, just to keep the stuff from trickling down his face. Even so, there was usually something unrecognizable hanging out of it, or around it. Although this nose was not without its seasons, often it was shiny pink, cracked and peeling, bloodied from a coke binge or scuffle.
But without the promised ideas that transcend the boring boring art world, we end up with nothing but boring boring banter. I found myself more interested in The Platypus and his wife (the only two characters who hint at complexity) than in the plights of the art kids.

Ollister, for example, claims to want to rise above the bullshit art scene and yet he attends all of the bullshit parties. For someone who claims to be so bored with this scene, he seems awfully involved with it. Other characters poke fun of clueless artsy types and yet remain embedded in this same art world:

Jolene had most of the requisites for her position. She was thin attractive in a birdy sort of way. She wore a black turtleneck with thick black framed glasses under dyed-black hair. Her family was wealthy. She would perform fellatio on the gallery owner, never intercourse. Her apartment was so minimalist as to be empty. Her tone was just condescending enough to sell art. She did not, however, have a foreign accent. This was her only clear disadvantage.
But in poking fun of these absurd artsy types, Plague (not his real name) becomes one himself. He becomes the Ollister type who lives to create something that rises above art. Problem is, he doesn’t. So where does that leave us? It leaves us with another story that deteriorates into a soap opera web of misunderstanding, cheating, and revenge.

But maybe that’s the point. Maybe Boring Boring is supposed to be boring boring. Maybe its only goal is to capture the absurd ennui of young, inexperienced art students. If that was, in fact, its goal, then it succeeded.

The novel does, however, have many highlights, most notably the Appendices in the back. I’d hoped that the characters would be as interesting as they seem in the appendices, which served as brief and fascinating character sketches. I found myself drawn more to the back of the book, to the sections following “The End,” than to anything before that. If this book does happen to fall into your hands, read Appendix C2, Appendix B. Read Plague’s wonderful list of party guests (pp 71-2); read the “Art Terrorism” interlude:

“some dirty hipster” grabs the microphone at Uni-Arts Lecture Day: “All you kids make me sick. Revolutionary, my ass. Nobody likes to be preached to, and that’s what you’re doing with your fucking “concept.” Preaching through painting, bullying us into your boring boring worldview by telling us what we know. You give no aesthetic value, no beautiful alternative to the shit you are whining about, be it your own banal shit, or the insolvable shit of the world. You are cowards. If you want to change things, change them, if you want to change the world, I don’t know, go fucking change it. stop fucking around with art. Because this is not the tool that makes that happen. And, also, you suck at it. and your bullshit “cause,” your piddling “concept,” is poor cover for that.”
Boring Boring comes from a perspective that still believes that parents and education are anti-enlightenment. The impression we’re left with is that this infamous gray book is nothing but a young artist’s composition book, full of ideas that he considers deep and meaningful in a hazy college dorm sort of way.

At its core, Boring Boring follows classic juvenile literature’s quest of the hero. One kid up against evil adults. The outcome? The kid, using his wits and his courage, outsmarts those foolish adults and saves the day. In the end, we’re searching for a glimmer of the divine – the thing that rises above the bullshit. If the art critics, buyers, and sellers are blind, as the art kids believe, then we need to have our eyes opened. Maybe the answer to all of this is in the gray papers, maybe not. Point is, we never find out. And all we’re left with is a group of uninspired art students who survive on drugs and disgust.
  • Subtitle Do You Live in a Vacuum?
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Nin Andrews
  • Date Published January 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0980109825
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 56pp
  • Price $10.00
  • Review by Brian Foley
Derived from emails, comments, and notes sent by students to her husband who is a physics professor, with Dear Professor, Do You Live in a Vacuum, Nin Andrews has collected a series of short epistolary poems with mixed results.
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  • Book Type Poetry/Prose
  • by Drew Kalbach
  • Date Published Achilles Chapbook Series, October 2008
  • Format Chapbook
  • Pages 28pp
  • Price $4.00
  • Review by Ryan Call
Inside the back cover of Drew Kalbach’s chapbook of prose poems is a section of text from the author, in which he writes one seemingly random sentence after another about the collection: “several children read the manuscript, but they started crying” and “it is a tribute to the ninja turtles disguised as a marilyn manson song disguised as real poetry” are two of the tamest examples. But among the chaos of this self-deprecating afterword, Kalbach has this thought about the chapbook: “it is so deep and layered that you can’t read it, you must climb through it.” Despite his immediately negating that idea by writing “there is no depth,” I could not help but grasp at the metaphor; it seemed to describe my own experience with the poems. These prose poems do have depth, and I didn’t so much read them as climb through them, over words and images, across sentences and line breaks.
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  • Book Type Stories
  • by Leslie What
  • Date Published July 2008
  • ISBN-13 1877655597
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 204pp
  • Price $13.95
  • Review by Cynthia Reeser
Leslie What, an author whose publication credits include numerous short stories in journals and anthologies as well as a novel and short story collection, is a Nebula Award Winner whose creativity and imagination are boundless. Crazy Love is a collection of 17 short stories that stop at nothing to convey the limitless possibilities of love and its tremendous potential for both honesty and hilarity.
  • Subtitle An International Collection of Prose Poetry
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  • Book Type Edited
  • by Robert Alexander & Dennis Maloney
  • Date Published July 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-1-893996-98-4
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 160pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Ryan Call
In his introduction to The House of Your Dream, Peter Johnson, founding editor of the influential and now defunct magazine The Prose Poem: An International Journal, writes, “About twenty years ago we prose poets lived in relative obscurity, lucky if we could get editors to read, much less publish, our work.” He goes on to recount briefly a history of the genre: its beginnings during the late 60’s and early 70’s in Michael Benedikt’s anthology of prose poems, the several international renaissances it has undergone over the decades, and the current generation of prose poets writing now. He offers the White Pine anthology as a sort of recent history of the prose poem, and with him Alexander and Maloney agree. They write in a short editors’ note in the frontspace of the book, “given the predilection we both feel for the magical form that is the prose poem, it didn’t take long for us to conceive of a prose poem anthology drawn from all the books that White Pine has published (or will soon publish) in its variegated career.”
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Karen Chase
  • Date Published March 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-1933880068
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $16.00
  • Review by Micah Zevin
Karen Chase’s second collection of poetry is not only about the significance of bears in terms of humanity’s barbaric need to destroy them through poaching, it is also a metaphorical and allegorical device that permits the author to impart tremendously beautiful narratives, often centered on the most painful and burdensome subjects in her own life. Her poems are emotional songs that dig their claws into your flesh until you simply respond or comprehend what is at stake. These poems of remembrance bridge the gap between the world of the beast, the bear, and the not-so-dissimilar world of human beings often overcome with the same primal tendencies.
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Stephanie Strickland
  • Date Published September 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-1-934103-01-2
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 120pp
  • Price $19.00
  • Review by Joseph P Wood
In contemporary experimental poetry, we a have vast collection of schools: lang po, post-modernists, ultra-modernists, post lang-po writers, etc. Among this large pool of innovation, we find Stephanie Strickland and her fifth book of poetry, Zone : Zero, recently released from Ahsahta Press.
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  • Book Type Flash Fiction
  • by Barry Graham
  • Date Published Achilles Chapbook Series, October 2008
  • Format Chapbook
  • Pages 24pp
  • Price $4.00
  • Review by Ryan Call
“I pulled my mother’s head out of the cream of wheat and wiped off her face and neck with a well worn green and yellow sponge from the kitchen sink.” And so goes the first line of Barry Graham’s chapbook Not a Speck of Light is Showing, a violent, rough, oversexed collection of flash fiction that, despite its hard-edged nature, tends to welcome readers at the oddest moments with its surprising revelations of humor and tenderness. Take this quote from "Dishonorable," for example:
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  • Book Type Poetry
  • by Michael McGriff
  • Date Published October 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0822960072
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 88pp
  • Price $14.00
  • Review by Roy Wang
Don’t read the back cover; Dismantling the Hills is not a love song to forests alive with work crews. It is an elegy for the soul-crushing life in the logging countries of Oregon, highlighted and made ironic against the background of a majestic Nature that should not only have been benign, but inspirational.
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  • Book Type Edited
  • by Billie Travalini, Fleda Brown
  • Date Published August 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0874130300
  • Format Hardcover
  • Pages 279pp
  • Price $37.50
  • Review by Joseph P. Wood
In BC Hall and CT Wood’s travelogue, Big Muddy: Down the Mississippi through America’s Heartland, they claim that the old dividing line between North and South, the Mason-Dixon, is arbitrary and outdated, a relic from a property dispute by two English astronomers in the 1760s.
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  • Book Type Novel
  • by Peter H. Fogtdal
  • by Tiina Nunnally
  • Date Published October 2008
  • ISBN-13 0979018803
  • Format Paperback
  • Pages 289pp
  • Price $15.95
  • Review by Laura Di Giovine
The Tsar’s Dwarf is Danish author Peter H. Fogtdal’s first novel to be translated into English. Sørine Bentsdatter, Fogtdal’s unusual heroine, is brilliantly rendered. A deformed female dwarf living in the early 18th century, Sørine is wittily acerbic, angry, and indifferent. She’s also shrewd, sensitive, and fiercely intelligent. At times she’s compassionate and almost kind; at others, her actions are questionable, even deplorable. Always, Sørine is human.
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