ONE OF THE MORE endearing qualities of Portland's small-press scene is how cooperative it is—there's no shortage of literary events featuring team-ups between authors and publishers. Case in point: This week's reading with Micheal Heald (head of Perfect Day Publishing) and Dan DeWeese (publisher of Propeller Books).
Heald's collection Good-Bye to the Nervous Apprehension was reviewed in a recent issue of the Mercury ["The Running Man," Arts, Nov 28, 2012]. Its chatty, personal essays about college, sports, music, and girls stand in intriguing contrast to DeWeese's more cerebral short stories.
DeWeese's Disorder is a lovely little book, with a striking red cover, French flaps, and deckle-edged (i.e. "raggedy") pages. As an object, the book is appealing but inscrutable—the description on the book's inner flap simply reads, in bold white capital letters, "THESE STORIES ARE ABOUT MEN, WOMEN, BUILDINGS, AND WORDS."
Architecture is the most notable of these recurring motifs—one character is an out-of-work architecture critic, another is working to prevent an old building from being torn down, and yet another is obsessed with his French-language copy of Le Corbusier's Towards a New Architecture.
DeWeese's stories are as a thoughtfully crafted as the buildings they frequently describe. And like extracting meaning from the shape of a building, reading these stories is an exercise in examining the relation of form to function: the walls are sound, the roof keeps the rain off, but there's meaning beyond the purely functional. In one story, "Zero," about a writer who finds himself at a terrible writer's retreat, the characters interrogate the story as it's being written—the literary equivalent of an architect leaving a building's beams exposed for all to see.
The Oregon Writers Colony selected Disorder for its first-ever Oregon Book Club (details at oregonwriterscolony.com), and it's a sensible selection: These stories deserve to be turned over and examined from different angles. Some readers will no doubt find them flat—the stories largely eschew the straightforward satisfactions of conflict and resolution. For readers willing to kick the walls a bit, though, Disorder's stories reveal their artful construction: They catalog the frustrations of unhappy, unemployed, and loveless men for whom the relationship between form and function—their function—remains elusive.