The words “Sam Pink” scroll through my headhole in big neon letters

Posted by @ 12:32 pm on February 18th, 2011

I feel like Person by Sam Pink, published by Lazy Fascist Press, is, as Ann Beattie said of Wittgenstein’s Mistress,  “a novel that can be parsed like a sentence.”

What I mean is the sentences, one per paragraph one by one, slowly present an image of existence—particular, funny, sad, moving, and sometimes surprising.

The book is thematic at the language level, and phrases recur mantra-like.

“It feels like practice,” Sam writes, again and again.

The narrator, the person, lives in Chicago and needs a job and clean socks, and thinks maybe it’d all be different if he just started getting professional haircuts.

The person interacts with his roommate, who is the kind of guy who asks if you’d like to have half of an orange that is completely your orange and in fact your last orange.

The person sometimes sleeps with the girl downstairs, who is nice to him in a way that makes him uncomfortable.

The person feels very alone sometimes.

There are scenes and jokes.

The chapters are short.

Some chapters are given a second treatment, an “other version” of that chapter.

Thus, scenes and chapters themselves recur.

Everything seems to recur.

Occasionally, words “flash through [the person’s] headhole in big neon letters.”

Seems like a sarcastic but interesting reference to the appearance of abstractions, words, ideas.

The person is never simply sad or simply unmotivated or simply lazy.

The person seems to have found himself in a common dilemma and is too [something] to take the usual ways out.

He considers starving to death on purpose, a la Hunger.

“I would be remembered as the man who purposely starved to death in North America.”

The novel is never simply funny or simply sad.


In order to demonstrate some of the technique, here is the opening of Person, somewhat presented and analyzed in other words:

The person places himself in Chicago and describes the content of his feelings via the simile “like a piece of shit.”

The person is walking around and there are people out.

Here or later on a reader may have a The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge flashback.

The length of one’s life is referenced in a comical fashion.

Eye contact (one form of seeing) is deemed bad, perhaps sarcastically.

A cheerful variety of self-loathing (or is it self-awareness?) continues on apace.

It is mentioned that agreement can come in the form of silence.

A funny joke is made re getting run over by a car.

What had been a funny joke transitions into a casual-seeming reflection on sources of pain, individuality, and the occupying of space and time.

Culminating in the sentence “It seems like there and here are just as loud somehow.”

Negative statements continue, sometimes followed by negations/uncertainty.

“No, I don’t know.”

The inability to make a sure statement is implied.

One of many, many sentences I love in this book: “It seems likely that if I were to give form to what I believe is my roommate’s abstraction of me, it would be some parts of a pencil eraser that someone blew to the floor after erasing something they didn’t want someone else to see.”

Sentences like this make me think “this is a poet’s novel” and think fondly of other books that make me think this subjective abstraction, such as The Hour of the Star or Good Morning, Midnight.

Death/acceptance/life is pictured, obliquely, as a fight, as someone either fighting back or giving oneself over to another who is trying to rip that other apart.

“It feels like practice.”

Death, the heart stopping, leads in the person’s mind to “heartattack.”

The person imagines the pain of a “heartattack.”

The heart ripping into more than one piece.

Pink writes, “And I can see either accepting everything that happens, or accepting none, but in between I lose hope.”

Seems this is the pain and the difficulty of existence.

Pink connects the existential quandary back to the emotional one, that feeling like a piece of shit or that potential heartattack, wanting to go to one extreme or the other.

“I can accept the heartattack of caring that much or that not-enough.”

In that sentence an example of a recurring style choice Pink makes, the combining of words into a compound, “heartattack,” and the use of negation and combination for emphasis, “not-enough.”

In this way, Pink demonstrates his focus on what he is doing with language.

Pink also seems to demonstrate in this way his ongoing focus on the infinitesimally small and the infinitely large.

And then a joke, in a book that is funny on nearly every page:

“What if I have a heartattack tonight and say something really dumb when it happens, like, ‘oh jeez’ and then make a dumb face when I fall.”

It continues on this way, the sentences short and potent and spare and full and funny.

The words “humble” and “wise” scroll through my headhole in big neon letters.

It made me laugh and my hair stand on end.

* * *

Person is available now from Lazy Fascist Press.

Stephen Tully Dierks writes stories and poems and edits the magazine Pop Serial. He lives in Chicago.