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Userlands: New Fiction Writers from the Blogging Underground (Little House on the Bowery) Paperback – January 1, 2007
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That said, it's a mixed bag but that's what's so intriguing about it. The tones are varied more than in DISCONTENTS, a previous fiction anthology edited by Cooper back in the day. Well, those days were all about AIDS and "Against Nature," etc., and here the social landscape against which this writing is conducted is very different, attenuated, sad, post-apocalyptic and lukewarm as opposed to the fiery inferno of DISCONTENTS. Cooper says in his preface that this if fiction "alive with passion" but I don't think so, not so you'd notice. It is however, fresh and exciting and all involved deserve a big round of applause. I see some of the writers as just being so excited about meeting Dennis Cooper that they were agonizing about "What should I write?" just like Cinderella was all like, "What can I wear?" as she ran through all her rags on coat hangers before the birds, mice and fairy godmother showed up to help her out. So some of the writing is too brief, too tenuous, really to see what its authors have in mind. A paragraph here, a sketch there, as though one were no longer allowed to write (as lyric poets paused, however briefly, according to Theodor Adorno's strictures on Auschwitz)--postmodernism has subtracted as much as it has made things open up. And these are some of the best pieces, in fact, in USERLANDS, but by the same token one has no idea what a second story by these minimalists might actually be like, it is sort of personality-free. Forty-one writers, three or four of them female, nearly all of them white (so there is a "whited-out" feeling too, pace Barthes), a sensation of possibilities eliminated. (The writers represented here were from an early prototype of Cooper's blog and hardly represent today's 42 per cent female membership.)
Garrison Taylor's story is sharp, fast-moving, and frequently amusing, and yet underneath the anomie we get a feeling for real people, real problems, and a current of real sexual feeling. Bett Williams' beautiful prose is stripped for action, like a greyhound, and here she develops a poesis of "the road" that pulls Kerouac's through the needle's eye and gives it a shock of adrenalin. Of a sympathetic waitress in an Arizona diner, her heroine muses, "I would have tried to hit on her but it would have taken language not available to that particular room." In "I Don't Know What This Means," young Joshua Dalton gives us a too-brief slice of another wigged-out family living out the American nightmare of possession, exorcism, and penitental sex, as a shower of meteorites flares overhead. "Meteors shred the clouds." Like the late John Cheever, the protagonists in these stories are often watching the skies, looking for perspective I suppose to balance out their often unsettled and violent lives. Nick Hudson explores the highly flavored world (Alka-Seltzer vs. lemonade) of a mentally deranged sitter and the six year old boy who remembers, years later, the things she made him do.
Some of the stories involve wild, drugged-out sex parties of college-age kids, apparently written by those who believe the opening scenes of THE RULES OF ATTRACTION represent exactly the epitome of art and the most to strive for. Two of these stories actually appear next to each other, like a little serial story where identical heroes and girlfriends appear under different aliases. In Charlie Quiroz' "Out of Control," a boy and a girl tell each other Joan Didionesque tales in a car, in a clipped, modulated American English that feels comfortable enough to abbreviate "out of control" as OOC, "just eough conversation go keep the both of us awake, the words coming in small ripples, the radio on quietly almost in deference to the night." I can't quote enough to give you a sense of how beautiful this writing is. I'd be here all day typing out of the book, one elbow flattening it open, while my wrists got tired from paraphrasing. What else did I like, Jack Shamama's porn scenario in Syd Field form gone bananas; Nicholas Rhodes' "Klonopin," which takes us to a highly charged situation, then makes us try to experience it through extremes of distance and disaffection; Stanya Kahn's LA "Hell" in which her Mardi Gras of visual and verbal detail belies the apparent cataclysm of its atmosphere--she notices so much, everything's marvelous; Aaron Nielsen's neo-Gothic tale of the supernatural come to life on an ordinary day in a late capitalist city--so assured and en pointe you'd think he was Lincoln Kirstein; Matthew Williams' manifesto in place of a story, "My Body's Work," nearly genius in its stripped-down, caustic Brion Gysin instruction: "Stop writing in order to write better," etc., the longest, perhaps most important piece in the anthology; and Will Fabro's story "Duels," like some fantastic lost chapter from an early Brad Gooch novel. They're all super writers.
James Champagne's piece is the paradigm of the new story that Cooper seems bent on proposing: it's nearly indistinguishable from a blog entry; the lines between fiction and non fiction have totally burnt away, in a fire of self-obsession and assertion that takes everything else with it. He tells the songs he likes, the songs he doesn't like. It's definition through the eyes of MySpace (though there are minute distinctions to be made: he breaks away from a topic saying that he's already ranted about it on LJ); Champagne is all about the frustration, perhaps, of having a beautiful name but perhaps not so much of a personality. By contrast, a story like Jack Dickson's "Mine," with its perfectly achieved blend of terror, nuance, and disgust, seems a little over-worked, as though care has been taken to engage the reader in an alien path of knowledge. --Old fashioned care, and a yank towards and improbable perfection.