Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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The title story, which features prisoners on “some sort of work-release thing,” “Men in white jumpsuits, beeping black anklets, very short hair,” is about the denizens of an office as new dividers are put up, cubicle walls, “these tall, blue pincushions just waiting for messages and memos and silence.” It is a story about fear and pity. Here, in order to make sense of the alien, the titillating and terrifying, office workers take recourse in the familiar: “We knew the guards on the bus would search them when they left, knew someone had taken a count of the blades like you count heads on a field trip back in grade school.” This warped use of the known, the everyday recurs in the stories collected within this chapbook—ingenious curlicues of thought, as when a narrator, stuck in traffic and pondering the cars around them, finds himself obsessing about one particular driver. “She had the same look as the rubbed-gray paint on her Corvette,” he thinks, “not faded but broken in and easy to look at in the winter cool, smoothed over at the curves without losing her edge.” In other stories, the situations themselves are warped versions of the everyday, as when the sexy woman sitting at the bar has with her a ventriloquist dummy. “Every new guy” still takes his chance (“From behind, she was a fox. The heart of her ass rested firm on the barstool, her body thick where it matters.”), but the dummy may be more than he seems.
Snoek-Brown’s strength is in phrasing, in setting thoughts in type (like that Corvette line, or like such crafted but seeming throw-aways of narration as “Nothing worth mentioning—just a day, warm and bristly in the grass, all those things you think of.”) and (as in both of those examples) building a whole world of alluded-to back story by stacking clause on top of clause. The book begins, “There was that time we drove four hours in the middle of the night just to have eggs at this diner she’d read about in the Lifestyles section of someone else’s newspaper, down at the library.” This opening story shows Snoek-Brown at the height of power, mastering the sort of casual, interior ramble that puts us, as readers, inside the skull and soul of someone that sounds like flesh and blood and warts and dimples. Consider this gem; five sentences to wrap up a world:
She wanted to buy a lizard; I wanted a turtle. This wasn’t that argument—this was another time, just a conversation, the two of us drunk and her dizzy with nicotine, her hair like raffia. She thought a lizard would be cool as shit, and I think she was right, but turtles cost a hell of a lot less, and I was right too. We had sex instead. That’s when the boy sneaked in, a pea in the womb.