I think Sean Lovelace’s blog is hilarious and always spot on. His writing there makes me not hate runners as much. Like when he did the airforce marathon, I thought that was a fascinating and rugged bit of literary essay.
I also think he thinks that how a thing is said matters more than what that said thing is. That’s a smart rule, a top ten rule, one that can’t be made too elastic. I mean, really, I don’t know him at all so there’s not much reason for me to care about his running habits, impressive though they are, or his disc golf hobby, whatever that is, or how much he likes hot dogs and thinks they are the greatest food on the planteen. But since, blogwise, he often opts to invent a phrase like “hang something all oyster” rather than to further explain a point that is (maybe) clear enough or (maybe) less valuable than the vim of the saying or (maybe) whatever — since that — then I’m piqued and I have a reason to care about all the else, the running and deer hunting and whatever hippy hobby he has.
He can’t, thank heavens, go a blog-sentence without ending awonk. A paragraph like this gives the reader a lot of credit and gives him the opportunity to use language like paint:
. . . I ate my pre-race meal, a mixture of liquids and gels and potato chips and solvents and Near Beer and oil additives. My body felt like a Global Hawk. My stomach did the cloud-cover, the sandstorm. I then descended into the arms of Morpheus.
That excerpt starts with lucid detail then crashes another party. This is the reading eye I brought to his chapbook, How Some People Like Their Eggs, fresh from the Rose Metal Press skillet. How does it measure up?
First of all — the book is a winner. It won the chapbook contest and deservedly so, but besides that, it’s a beautiful artifact. The typesetting is impeccable, the design is striking, and the construction is solid. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that holding this book instills a sense that this is what a chapbook is meant to be. The production quality exemplifies the value of a chapbook, distinct from a ‘zine or something full-length; this justifies the medium.
But how does Lovelace’s writing here match up to what he does on his blog? Does he capture the same tone, or do these ten more deliberate works of flash fiction lose something in their full flesh? Do they gain something in their development? It does seem clear that these pieces are more “worked” than the joyous blather at his blog, and sometimes I miss those frenetic connections that he makes. But they aren’t absent entirely, just smoothed out and tucked in. Like, here’s something interesting in the first paragraph of the first story, “The meteorite hit a woman with hair wrapped high like a hornet’s nest, in the left thigh.” I think there is a misleading structure to that sentence. By first attending to the hairdo, he de-prioritizes the subject that’s really at issue; a person hit by a space chunk is more interesting than her hair. The story, after all, is called “Meteorite,” but he subverts that and focuses on the woman, and in this way, the story becomes deeply human.
There are some more obvious jokes in “Meteorite,” too, like “a restaurant that serves college kids, and very bad food” or defining leukemia as “a disease wherein the white blood cells run amuck and drink too much beer. . . .” He pulls off a trademark simile such as, “walking, like two paper cups blown across a grassy courtyard” and “tall beers, bubbles rising like glass elevators,” but these are more reserved than “sleep like a machinery” which he wrote at his blog. By reserved I mean “more sensible,” but not necessarily better. No, that depends first on the story. Of course, this particular story is about cancer, therefore serious, therefore not joyful blather. Rather it’s a charted narrative that ends:
“Two years later I spent my spring break in a small Florida town where you could simply pitch your tent on the beach and lift sand dollars off the ocean bottom like lost frisbees and see so many stars at night it was stupid.”
To achieve that sublime tenor with a colloquialism isn’t easy. Not unless you’re good.
When I think about it that way, I find it remarkable how much technique he is able to carry over from the lunacy of his blog. This comparison ought to be a case-study in how a blog works for a serious writer; how easily he moves away from the tomfoolery of clicking “Publish” in WordPress for the nobler duty to a story, how he can select from a better pool of metaphors than “run like a friend’s closet” in something that appears between two covers. And then, what’s really cool, is getting those devices honed and still including nachos and frisbees and a zinger like “two sorority girls stroll by looking absolutely themselves.” And all this just appears in the first story. There are nine more, and my favorite is “I Love Bocce.” It made me laugh the hardest.