Posts Tagged ‘BatCat Press’

A Review of “This Boy, This Broom” by P. Edward Cunningham

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

Spencer Dew

This attractively designed little book from BatCat Press relays a series of dispatches from the frontlines of the American cineplex, P. Edward Cunningham’s accounts of his days as a teenage employee of a movie theater, replete with sweeping, second-hand candy, and occasional snippets of human tragedy. The writing, alas, does not match the productive value of the text itself, though there are stronger moments, such as the repeating “Shift” sections, terse, chronological reports of the job itself. “Return to lobby,” one such entry reads, “No popcorn to sweep. Concessionist smiles at me. Asks me what my name is. I tell her. She wears too much eye shadow. Eyes like Nixon. Swollen. Results of a shellfish allergy? She tells me I’m cute. Radio lights up.” Where such a minimalist–and speedy–style succeeds, much of Cunningham’s writing falls short, stumbling over its own phrasing while aiming for a comic didacticism, a discourse of distance from the thing itself. “As a person who is often oblivious to the obvious, I consistently fail to notice statistics that some would consider highly informative when searching for someplace to spend on holiday,” the author writes, by way of a story about the wonders and horrors of Detroit. Then, of the visit, he says, “Meg and I were rather stunned by the number of Picassos hanging in the halls of the DIA–an amount larger than that of most museums we had visited. Compared to the copious amounts of wind-swept trash throughout the city, the museum was quite the contrast.” My problem here, ultimately, is that the awkwardness of the writing masks an absence, that of full characterization of the narrator. “I imagine that having the rare permission to photograph anything in the contemporary portion of a museum is similar to a police officer letting you hold his gun for a moment or two,” he says, and there is, in the unreality of that particular comparison for the narrator, in the stretch and the smirk of it, something simply missing. The relationship to art–to photography of it–remains vague, and while this is a minor example, the same problem plagues the book’s emotional core. As the narrator remains vague on his own feelings about his situation, his work (he’s upset when a new manager promotes all ushers to the “head usher” title, which is clear enough, but “Nothing mattered anymore” hits the wrong sort of hyperbolic note) so too does he remain disturbingly distant from the suffering of others that he routinely encounters on the job. The narrator can turn away from a man sobbing into his hands after, on his day out with his son, sitting in a movie seat saturated with human waste…yet he turns away, too, as author, leaving his readers unsure whether to cry or laugh, leaving them, in the wake of his own unexamined insularity, ready to quickly move on as well. This Boy, This Broom is autobiography devoid of intimacy, lacking an authentic sense of the author’s self and his relations with the world. Ultimately, the book mimics the tedium of the work at the cineplex, which is perhaps one of its goals. But with the scenes Cunningham witnessed and the experiences he endured, he could have crafted a much more affecting text.

Official P. Edward Cunningham Web Site
Official BatCat Press Web Site