You Private Person
by Richard Chiem
Scrambler Books, 2012
139 pages / $12.00 buy from Scrambler Books
1. I appreciated what I imagined was the time spent in deciding the titles for the individual stories. They seem to be an art form in it of itself and are often cast aside with boring, one word placeholders in other collections. But these seem like really good tweets, or prompts for possible flash fiction.
2. I was intrigued before even opening the book. Between the nice cover art by Mark Leidner and the trio of blurbs on the back cover that force you to not only start reading but, when you’re done, place the book face down so as to show off the insanely nice and potent words of Dennis Cooper, Kate Zambreno, and Blake Butler.
3. It’s a small book, under 150 pages, but the actual size of it and layout of the pages w/r/t to font, spacing, etc, make it feel much more hefty and somehow more important.
4. This is the first thing I read from Scrambler Books. I have certain small presses that I’m comfortable with purchasing pretty much anything and everything they release. If this book is any clue to Scrambler’s future intentions than I plan on adding them to my queue, to the detriment of my bank account.
5. I’ve never read Chiem before this. I went back and found some of his stories online. They didn’t disappoint. I love it when an author is able to bridge the difficult gap between lone stories in online journals and a fully formed collection in print.
6. I’m jealous. I’ll admit it. Chiem is born a year after me and he’s a hell of a writer. He’s put together a collection of stories that I aspire to replicate in my own way. This book has a maturity behind it that hides the fact that this is his first published book.
7. “The first fiction is your name,” Eileen Myles. Seems like a perfect quote to open the book. It put me in a subdued and contemplative mindset before the first story.
8. There is something in this book for everyone. As much as I hate when I read the previous statement in a review for this book, it’s true. Short fiction, some prose poetry, fragments of stories, linked narratives.
9. You’ll definitely feel a little better about the future of the short story after reading this collection. Chiem is a young writer who has a stranglehold on his craft, who has finely tuned his pen to hear the whispers of our society, the forgotten people, the discarded images are given a second home.
10. The opening paragraph of the book is perfect. It combines his greatest gifts as a writer: his pitch perfect sense of how to put together a sentence and his ability to allow himself the freedom to wander with his thoughts while still maintaining the discipline to reign it all back in and bring the reader to a larger point, usually profound yet understated. “Cigarettes can levitate you and the bare weight you have very bored in your head and you have never known you were unhappy until the feeling leaves you like imagined geese from hills eager for migration. Birds are so fun to imagine. This all comes from years of wanting to know how to fly standing out on balconies pretending sex is the name same as flight because surely geese can feel in the air like I do when her eyes go crossed when bedrooms soften after foreplay when language works much like animal speech. Only by repeating each other’s names. I do believe all birds are named Chirp.”
11. The dialogue throughout is real. Have you ever read books and just sort of skip over the dialogue because you realize that the writer is using it as a dumping ground and it’s not really serving any real purpose or doesn’t seem plausible? Well Chiem’s dialogue is the exact opposite. It serves a vital purpose, it is real, echoes of truth and lack of bullshit are appreciated (by me) when listening to how a person speaks in a book and Chiem, more times than not, has the rhythms and cadences of his characters down so well that I feel that I’m waiting at a bus stop overhearing a couple argue, or am at a party eavesdropping on a conversation.
12. “The older I get the more I realize life is all about nodding at people and looking them in the eye.” YES. I wish my parents or a teacher or my guidance counselor or my therapist told me this earlier. Would’ve saved a lot of time and headaches.
13. Picking a favorite story from a collection you adore is like choosing a favorite kitten from a litter of newborns. Sorry to all the other adorable whiskers but “what if, Wendy” is the one I’m taking home with me.
14. In the Wendy story Chiem puts sex at the forefront. While this is done way too much in contemporary literature and often comes off as a cliché he handles the topic with wit, dry humor, and poignancy that moves the story beyond shock value and actually delivers emotion behind the passion, heartfelt moments in between the animal urges of two young people.
15. This quote pretty well sums up the honesty and straightforwardness of the Wendy story:
“Have you ever done anal? Jesse asks her.
Yes, she says. I love anal.
She pauses and says, There is something perfectly wrong about it. I tend to love things I’m not supposed to.”
16. There’s a panoramic quality to the book. Chiem paints a portrait (multiple ones) with his words, creates a world that transforms the mundane and ordinary aspects of everyday life into beautifully detailed, intricately woven moments that elevate these character’s actions into something larger than life.
17. The best word to describe this book is raw. It’s unpolished in the best sense. His writing is polished, shows an attention to detail and craft but it’s his willingness to leave his subjects vulnerable and bare, without luster, that gives the book its backbone, creating a larger character that floats above the book throughout.
18. Found myself shaking my head as I was reading. This happened at least once a story and didn’t matter if I was reading it in public. I didn’t care, I had to. Even if the events written about hadn’t happened to me I could somehow relate to them, empathize in some cases. Chiem’s ability to observe, analyze, and deconstruct everyday things gave me a peek into a different mindset. It was as if I were looking through a different set of binoculars, really expensive ones that gave me a better vantage point.
19. I felt as though I’d been given the greatest gift a writer can give to a reader: empathy and understanding.
20. I’m really proud (weird, I know) to have this book on my shelf. It makes me happy to have friends come over and find this title, tucked away amongst other better known titles. I want to lend it to them, all of them, to share this book’s magnetism, its beauty. I was even thinking of getting a second copy just so I could go to my local library and shelve it (stealth like) with a note in it saying, “For free, just pass it on.”
21. Flip to a page, any page. Now pick a line, any one, doesn’t matter which. Read it. You’ll like it. That’s what makes a good book in my opinion. Chiem’s book is a collection of stories but more so a collection of interlinked ideas and thoughts and sentences and words jumbled together in such a fashion that you could read this in one sitting, go from start to finish or read individual stories at your leisure and still be affected by this book.
22. While some of the topics broached in this collection may not be deemed profound (who’s doing the judging?) it’s the details, the everyday ambiguities that Chiem magnifies, showing it in all of its beauty and ugliness at the same time.
23. Fuck the “20 Under 40 List.” Richard Chiem is on my 10 under 30 List, or whatever shortlist/arbitrary ranking system you want to replace mine with. Point is, he’s young, he’s talented, and he’s overlooked and shouldn’t be. Watch out for him!
24. I don’t like comparing writers but find it’s useful. Chiem’s dialogue and understanding of character is similar to Tao Lin but his dreamscape like prose, infused with a poet’s touch for the perfect word, and ability to ensconce his stories with a deeper layer of both beauty and ugliness; it’s this duality that elevates him above this comparison. In short, he’s like that really good short story you read recently from your favorite online journal written by an author you’ve never heard of before.
25. Consider the book’s ending. “Heat ribbons move in the air off the pavement and white lines. Exiting off the highway, she makes a contemplative yet happy face, taking off her sunglasses. Her eyes turn hazel from hazel. She says she felt really safe earlier when our arms touched each other in public and we made eye contact standing next to a fat man in the elevator in the parking garage where we first met casually. For fun she drives backwards on the 405.” This last sentence is beautiful in its simplicity and uniqueness. Having a book end on a such a lovely crafted sentence (and paragraph) makes me happy and sad at the same time. Happy because, well, there’s nothing better (to me) than a nice ending to an engaging book. Sad because I want the beauty to continue, if only for just another sentence to see if he can replicate its splendor.