Word Riot Press recently published World Takes, a collection of stories by Timmy Waldron. Many of these stories appeared online in journals, including “Worry for the Well Rested” on pindeldyboz and “Things You Would Know About Paul if You Were His Friend” on eyeshot. And yet, buy the book for the ones that you can’t find online, and to have this wonderfully shaped collection in its entirety. My philosophy about story collections is that they are like albums more than novels. What story is chosen to go first, second, last and so forth, greatly shape the book. Often, there are a few “hits”. Sometimes, there is filler. Many a poor collection revolve around only one or two good stories. This is not the case with Waldron’s World Takes. Here is a collection perfectly shaped, with a strong punch of a first story, “Amanda”, that sets the dark, funny tone for the book. In “Amanda”, Waldron employs a fantastic use of first and second person, where the second person is not just an inversion of first person, but rather, the narrator actually addresses another person:
Remember all those restless nights of worry and tears? They really weren’t worth much in the end. But hey, there were some laughs along the way. Remember that time that thing happened, and we all laughed and high fived? I bet you do, mainly because your life isn’t so great, and you sit up at night, in the darkness, thinking up things to worry over. What’s that all about? Inventing things to worry about, it’s a waste of time. But I guess that’s what makes you an artist.
We never find out what that thing that happened was, but it hardly matters. The ghostliness of it is enough- the mood is everything, and yet this is a short short filled with excellent details. The narrator seems ambivalent to Amanda (the “you” in this story). Indeed, toward the end he admits; “”I guess what it all boils down to is I hate you.” Yet, as snide as he is- and I have soft spot for stories that make fun of suffering artists if they are done well–we soon find out he is no better off.
The outside world, oh the big bad outside world, you can have it. I’m going out to the desert for awhile. There’s a camp in the wastelands that teaches you things about people and nature and walking around. There is a lot of walking around. In fact, it is not a camp at all, it is just a location…The camp costs eight hundred dollars. Which brings me to the point: could I borrow some money?
And so it goes. We need things from people, even people we don’t really like. Throughout the collection, Waldron’s characters exhibit a simmering wrongness and inevitable falling apart. Whereas Cormac McCarthy’s work always portrays an aspect of chaos theory, Waldron’s stories better exemplify the theory of entropy. And Waldron is often funny, but usually in a very uncomfortable way. In the story “Before Floyd Hit” , which takes place in a high school and roams many points of views–from frighteningly, sexually repressed teachers, to the strange kid who is getting fucked, figuratively and literally, by the selfish, pretty girl (whose inner workings we get a look at as well), to the roided out jock–Waldron nails them all:
The pills Trip scored for him probably weren’t helping. They weren’t pure steroids. He didn’t want his hair to fall out or his balls to shrivel up. But the pills did have a kick. They had taken seconds off his timed mile, put a little extra torque behind his hits, and added fourteen pounds of solid muscle to his frame since summer. He thought they might also have been the reason he raped Janice Reece after the last dance.
Here is the casual sadism of adolescence, the undeniable narcissism that grips most of us in our youth, expertly rendered. His depictions of the teachers are equally compelling:
Unfortunately for Karen, yesterday was gone and today her life was rotten with problems. Her fiance had left her last night, no face to face explanation, just a note: “Those pictures from the party are out. I was sent a copy of them by one of the brothers. I can’t marry you. It’s too embarrassing for my family. Wish it didn’t go down like this. Love, Alan. P.S. I heard that a bunch of guys from the old house have posted them online.
And even though everyone’s lives whirl in a storm of destruction and chaos, these stories have their moments of beauty and redemption, although they tend to appear accidental, which may be a perfect way to express such things. Grace is mysterious, whether by God’s hand or from the laws of physics, and Waldron, amidst his humor, his grasp of the absurb and depiction of weakness and violence, knows this.
Lastly, I want to say that World Takes represents how independent presses can do more than publish books that are too experimental (although many of these stories are formally interesting, for sure) for the major publishers, but also can publish books that make you think, “why doesn’t this guy have a major publisher?” (Elizabeth Ellen does that to me.) And the answer to that would be that they can’t publish every good thing out there, can they? That all presses are run by humans, and many a press will pass up, wrongly, a very good book. I have no idea whether or not Waldron tried to get a major publisher in the first place, but that isn’t totally my point. What I mean to emphasize here is how indie presses can offer a different benefit to the readers of the world: they can publish the surplus of excellent manuscripts, that for whatever non-reason, are not getting published by Random House.