BROOKLYN-BASED PUBLISHER Akashic Books brings two authors to town tonight, both with new books that're selections of Dennis Cooper's Little House on the Bowery series, which aims to provide "a forum for a wide variety of younger writers whose tremendous gifts and personal vision warrant a broad readership, and whose work holds the possibility of impacting the future of American fiction."
The two books represented on this week's Akashic incursion are stylistically and thematically dissimilar, sharing only two points beyond Cooper's stamp of approval: Both chafe a bit against conventional narrative structures and techniques, favoring obliqueness and meta-textual sleights of hand over more straightforward storytelling. And both, oddly and irrelevantly, feature a cover image of flowers.
by James Greer
According to its cover text, James Greer's second novel purports to "answer the question not enough people ask themselves on a regular basis: Am I a failure?" For the record, Mr. Greer, most of the people I know, myself included, ask themselves that all the time. (We are also prone, particularly after a whiskey or two, to asking other people what we should do with our lives.) The Failure's non-chronological chapters describe an unsuccessful robbery attempt ("the Korean check-cashing fiasco," as it's known in the book) staged by a young LA resident named Guy Forget. "Guy dreamed of getting rich quick, which I believe to be the heart of the American dream," writes Guy's nemesis, Sven Transvoort. "For Americans who are born into the condition, the phrase 'get rich quick' means exactly what it says: that they will suddenly and without much effort come into enough money to live without care in a luxurious manner." Guy's plan to rob a check-cashing place, to earn money for an internet startup he's convinced will make him millions, lands him in a coma; the book jumps perspectives, chronology, and voice in explaining Guy's backstory and downfall. Greer has a tendency to overburden his sentences—try keeping up with the imagery in this one: "The sun-swollen leaves of a young sycamore, trapped in a square of dirt in front of the bank, spackled the cracks in the sparsely peopled sidewalk with a paste of piebald shade." But the characters' voices ring true, and while The Failure isn't quite as insightful or impactful as one suspects Greer would like it to be, it is an entertainingly offbeat read nonetheless.
The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis
by Mark Gluth
Where Greer splashes gleefully about in language, Mark Gluth's writing is reserved, almost dolorous. The book opens on the title character, Margaret, sitting in the kitchen with her dog. "Margaret's working on a piece of fiction. It's autobiographical in a sense. She dies in the end." But three short pages later, at the end of part one of the first chapter, it's Margaret's dog that is dead. Part two comprises three vignettes, as Margaret dreams the story of her dog's death again and again. (I had to put the book down at this point; the dog scenes hurt a bit.) The rest of the book strings together stories within stories, dreams within dreams, and characters connected by death and art and proximity and escape. Late Work is perfectly precise in its emotional evocations, even as it resists any impulse toward a recognizable narrative structure, or even a logical chronological one. It's not clear, in the end, where art and dream end and life begins, and that's why Gluth's slight, considered book is so remarkable.