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Poetic and profound drunkenness
on May 3, 2012
Originally published in eFiction Magazine
"Soft Rot," a collection of five short stories in 33 pages, is the first on-dead-tree and Kindle volume published by eFiction community member Tyler Findlay. Twenty-three-year-old Findlay, blessed with first and surnames good enough to be nomes de plume, wrote these stories after suffering the curse of celebrity in his days as a rock-band bass player where, as he puts it, "I played some cool shows, met some great folks and fell off a few stages."
"It wasn't until that lifestyle landed me in rehab that I tried writing," Findaly said.
A life out of control and doused in bohemian drama informs every passage in "Soft Rot." Five stories pivot on drunken or desperate characters clutching at others for rescue or bound for self-destruction. The unifying title, Findlay explained in our interview, "refers to the permeating acid that is the human experience. The fruit -- the mind and body -- are eaten slowly into a numb state of abjection."
But "Soft Rot" isn't just angst and obscenity, even if a portion was previously published at HorrorSleazeTrash.com. Because -- especially in the fifth and longest story, "To Taste This Nectar" -- Findlay demonstrates a skill for describing drunken reason and alcohol-addled perception so well that anyone who was every young and irresponsible will find the memories flooding back. While many writers strive to communicate the essence of intoxication and self-deception, Findlay succeeds to the point of being profound.
Findlay does this by avoiding surrealism. His most committed self-destructive drunk, Ethan, awakes on the floor of his girlfriend's apartment after blacking out trying to score with another woman, and is immediately thrown out of his girlfriend's apartment, which interrupts his morning pick-me-up of slavic ethanol. Through the day he determinedly battles back sobriety and reaches that level of bouncing-off-objects-while-running drunk that for some of us was the shock that prompted reform, and for others was the last burst of life at the edge of the precipice.
Only one story ends with a note of satisfaction for the protagonist, but that person isn't based on Findlay, whose stories are inspired by his own antics and others he saw. In "Lights Still Burning," told from the POV of a teenage girl stuck in a bad part of town after her date disappears, Findlay explains that "I was the guy." The guy never appears on stage, but after a pair of exes unite to bring balance to the universe, we suddenly feel his pain more than theirs.
"Basement Tapes" is about Amanda, a busty sex kitten, and her boyfriend Jordan, a paint artist with a diseased imagination whose twisted depictions on canvas no longer sell. Amanda is endowed with decolletage but no conscience, and it's soon clear she's the one with exit options.
In "Blue Primitive Wild" we meet Kenneth, who lives with Alex who sleeps with Karen who's rumored to be a lesbian but whose who has nightly noisy sex with Alex, "their howls bouncing along the empty walls." Nobody pays the bills so they suffer cold showers and dark rooms, but the party rages on. One night Kenneth lashes out in a way that shocks even careless Alex and which leaves Kenneth in tears, unable to fix the damage.
In "Novae," the shortest story and at least a hint of an optimistic though mysterious ending, we feed on the internal dialogue of Cooper, an angry commuter who must stop for a bottle on his way home after sitting through a traffic jam. In what is truly "guilty pleasure fiction," the guilt and pleasure come from hearing the truth of our own thoughts in Cooper as he rages at the accident scene ahead: "This kind of traffic calls for bloodshed. Someone better have damn died."
Writing these quasi-exposes wasn't exactly therapy for Findlay; it was therapy that led to the writing.
"I was drying out in rehab at the time, and needed a new outlet," Findlay says. "It's just not in my nature to have idle hands. Some stories are more fictitious than others, but all were inspired by my personal experience or events near me."
He's shared his work with some of those people and says most laugh when they recognize themselves in the stories or because they "were involved in the debauchery which inspired it."
For people who meet the stories before they know the man, "So far the feedback has been extremely positive, [though] I can't say it paints me in the best light to have written such a purely vulgar work."
Vulgar, yes, but in retrospect Findlay agrees they are cautionary tales -- and to the reader, all the more effective because of their vulgarity. For the discerning young they warn that being irresponsibly carefree is filled with cares; for the middle-aged, they're a reminder that we decided to grow up for good reasons.
Findlay said the selected stories grew under the encouragement and feedback from editors at The 22 Magazine and Horror Sleaze Trash, and from multiple readers, both among friends and online forums. A close friend, Jordan Kimbro, was copy editor and receives a title-page credit. A few proofreading errors slipped into the final PDF -- e.g., "Indian" should always be capitalized -- but overall the volume is clean and undistracting and definitely worth reading.