Friday, November 11, 2011

420 Characters

Posted by Kurt
This beautiful collection of hyper-minimalist stories is simply stunning.  Lou Beach presents himself with a simple challenge - make an impact in a Facebook status update, which means writing 420 characters or fewer - and succeeds in roughly 160 different ways.  Each page of this collection is one status update, each standing independently but some tracing faint connections through the volume in a vaguely Spoon River Anthology kind of way.  Some are complete stories with a beginning, middle, and end, and some are completely surreal images that don’t have an obvious surface-level connection, but most are single rich images that suggest much larger stories.  I have been madly in love with minimalism since reading a Chuck Palahniuk essay about Amy Hempel (and then devouring each of her collections), and most of Beach’s work compares well with the best of Hempel’s creations.  Beach clearly understands exactly how to cultivate just the most evocative details of a scene, like a cowboy realizing that all of his lover’s letters have taken on the aroma of campfires, a child absorbing the warmth of a small wooden bridge while dropping pebbles into the stream below, or three lines of dialogue that suggest the overall shape of a passionate argument.  

There is a dreamy poetry to these pieces, and even the less successful experiments are gems for thoughtful readers to treasure.  If Facebook can inspire gifted artists to create beauty like this, I’m willing to forgive it for every hour it has ever drained from people wasting their time on Farmville.  This is one of my new favorite books.

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