Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008) and the forthcoming critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2010). An instructor at Loyola University, Chicago, Dew also reviews books for Rain Taxi Review of Books and art for Newcity Chicago. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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From “Rules and Regulations”:
Keep a journal but do not write in it such bitch-like things as Dear Diary, You are the only one who I can tell all of my secretes stuff to, for only you understand me and accept me as I am, because fuck that, it’s no way to do things, the whimperest cry for help. No need for help much less cries or whimpers when you follow these simple rules, so keep a journal, or a diary, and don’t write anything in it that the rules don’t tell you to, and for God’s sake don’t write anything actual.
An inky rain of teardrop-shaped skulls floods over a picture of a trailer park on the cover of this collection of stories, pooling in cartoony blobs and puddles, a pattern repeated in a series of parody postcards, inside the text, from Bleached Whale Design, cards written “when we were last on vacation together so that you would have something to look forward to on our return.” The topics of such to-be-returned-to reading include Michael Jackson, terrorism, and smashing through the frozen ice of whatever, but the main event is the winking, tweaking deconstruction of that learned discourse through which we attempt to express affection, the distilled pillow-talk of culture: “Punky monkey, Booger bear, Bucket Brimming with Cold, Cold Love, sometimes you are so distant that I’m just a tiny speck, and I am trying not to fail to evoke you before I disappear.”
The stories here are exercises in such evocation—and, perhaps also, such disappearance. The world becomes an ink-splattered photograph of itself, as when a celebrity from the reality television competitive dating show circuit stitches a new wallet out of freshly flayed human skin. As the narrator of the excellent first story says, of a notion that gets violently understood by the wider society, “It’s a parable for the generation after metaphor died. It’s the Mongreloid creed. Don’t forget to remember. You’ll be doing more remembering than imagining soon enough.”
Such notions swirl around this book, like a travelling troupe of players taking whirlwind tours across the stage, approximating various accents and costumes, putting on a full melodrama with only a few real bodies. Those tarred-up postcards are already narratives defaced, working on several levels—the treacle of outdated attempts at generating nostalgia for profit, the desperation of seizing moments that never existed as such.... TeBordo is clever, and his cleverness, above all, tells him that communication is impossible except as something erratic, scatter-shot.
“Assess a tax,” sings the white garage band in a concept album they’ve woven out of Black Power teachings, all in the hopes that their work can help eschatology unfold, can bring about “the revolution, the new era, the tupacalypse.” TeBordo, as author, embodies all the roles in this little drama, too—he’s the cynical grad student, smirking behind his hands; he’s the younger brother, desperately left out of any sense of an authentic world; he’s the guys in the band, achingly earnest in their lunacy; and he’s the townspeople “standing around the house waving their weaponized farm implements...demanding retribution and the restoration of a reputation of no repute.”
The vigor here, as with that misread concept album, gets poured so thick on language and ideas that sometimes the machinery of the stories gum up, reducing them to merely exercises. But other times, as in that first, strong story, TeBordo gets enough stride to walk atop the surface of the gurgling tar, “in slow motion with a gangsta lean, arms extended and guns blazing, my black hood barely covering my thousand-yard stare, nothing but my erection keeping my jeans above my ankles....”
Official Christian TeBordo Web Site
Official featherproof Books Web Site