With 100 Spinning Plates, Chicago-based writer Rob Christopher has created an experimental work that attempts to undo the mechanics that make most novels tick. The book's title implies a precarious balancing act. Perhaps more aptly, it conjures records in a DJ mix that, once juxtaposed and re-contextualized, create a linear arc from disparate fragments—which is exactly what 100 Spinning Plates endeavors to achieve. Made up of 100 unbound pages that can be shuffled like a deck of cards, every encounter with this text is ostensibly unique. It's a fascinating concept that is greatly indebted to the ideas of the experimental composer John Cage, who employed chance and the unintended as compositional elements. But a reader's enjoyment of 100 Spinning Plates hinges on whether he or she demands that a narrative contain a discernible beginning, middle, and end, or, on the other hand, finds pleasure in the very unraveling of storytelling convention. In the end, it's akin to asking: Would you prefer to listen to a collage of found sounds or a tightly crafted and familiarly structured pop song?
As I read through Christopher's "exploded novel," I found myself longing for the latter. But this has as much to do with his tales of listless slackerdom than the project's structure. His semi-autobiographical snippets run the gamut from working at coffeehouses and cruising for guys online to tracking down out-of-print Talking Heads records and recounting imagined conversations between Stanley Kubrick and Albert Brooks. Perhaps most frustrating, though, is the way the content limits the project's potential. Every card's anecdote is so self-contained that it's virtually impossible for the interchangeability of the cards to create any unexpected relationships, let alone build any semblance of narrative momentum, however threadbare that might be. Where Christopher could have used his cut-up concept to playfully subvert the way stories are told, 100 Spinning Plates winds up as little more than a gimmicky presentation, in which readers have the option to hit the random play mode on an already disconnected string of episodes. JOHN MOTLEY