Category Archives: Featherproof Books

Book Review: Hiding Out by Jonathan Messinger

Title: Hiding Out
Author: Jonathan Messinger
Publisher: Featherproof Books
Genre: Short Stories
ISBN: 978-0977199235
Pages: 183
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Hiding out is a weird book – a happy weird book. It makes you want to read more stories like the ones in the book, but in vain! One has to wait for the next Jonathan Messinger to be published. I am a total and huge fan of the short story form. I honestly believe that every living writer should follow and apply the craft of short story writing before venturing to the novel form. In my opinion it only is needed to hone and work on the craft of writing. To make it more lucid and sketch better characters and plots. It is after all not easy to encompass an idea or a thought in four pages and emerge a winner at the end amongst the readers.

Hiding Out by Jonathan Messinger is one such book. It took me a while to get into the book. The way it is written is radically different and a regular reader may take some time to absorb and get familiar with the style. Having said that, once that happens, then it would be very difficult to tear the reader away from the book. The book is about stories centred on people – regular people who are avoiding the consequences of their poor decisions – their unknown errors and now they do not want to face the outcome and trying to connect at the same time, which on one hand is quite ironic and on the other, it is as real as they come.

A jilted lover dresses as a robot to win his ex back. A man builds a time machine to embrace the identity he always denied (This holds true for so many of us). A zoo has a latest addition – a man-eating wolf. A teenager finds the key to everlasting life in a video game. It is as though the characters do not somehow have a life of their own.
Jonathan’s writing is crisp and to the point.

The short stories do not occupy more than three pages and yet as I reader, I wanted to read more of a couple of stories. The rhythm to the writing is easy and does not change. The stories on the other hand will surprise you, make you laugh, cry and shock you as well. The range of emotions will be experienced and will leave you wanting for more. The stories are just more than thought provoking, they just make you reflect on your life at some point as well.

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Hiding Out

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Book Review: Scorch Atlas by Blake Butler

Title: Scorch Atlas
Author: Blake Butler
Publisher: Featherproof Books
ISBN: 978-0977199280
Pages: 188
Genre: Short Stories, Futuristic Fiction
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

In Blake Butler’s Scorch Atlas, the world is being obliterated by a series of thirteen plagues that make those of biblical renown seem altogether quaint. But this isn’t about how nations or social structures or science deals with upheaval and disaster. No, that would be far too rational a take on a universe that seems given over entirely to irrationality. The plagues frame the stories of this book, but are immediately backgrounded by extremely personal investigations of loss. (It’s not the same at all, but consider how Anna Kavan’s Ice all but ignores its global disaster in favor of a single obsessive search). And so, the core of each of these stories lies not in end-of-the-world adventures, but in a completely real and believable pain. Isolation, the loss of children, the disintegration of family.

Scorch Atlas’ drowned, mud-caked, pustulent endgame world is so unrelenting, it absorbs all light you have for it. It bears the same adolescent Apocalypse fantasies that all sci-fi writers do in fiction and Tea Party adherents do in real life: it creates a world where no one will help you, literal helplessness, where the poor bastards that do not succumb to disaster by drowning and architectural collapse -it takes a degree of separating oneself from the recent catastrophe in Japan, and memories of Katrina to take fiction of this sort in – are worse off to live in a world of literal and metaphoric shit.

The stories are, for the most part, voluminously and unapologetically throat-slashing, yet there’s such a poetic beauty to the language that balances out such material (I liken this kind of comparison to some of the horrific violence of the original Suspiria, which is centered around the candy-colored cinematography, striking some oddly corporeal balance of opposite goings-on), making many of the bleak and apocalyptic landscapes seem like there’s a chance that things could get turned around, could get better–something which you never actually see coming to fruition, but with the possibilities always indefatigably looming.

As a work of searing allegory, Scorch Atlas is what we were, what we are, and what we’ll always be: propelled and clinging and curious. This is not a story about the lives of characters after some cataclysmic event. This is a book about people caught up in the destruction and mayhem. There are situations happening in this book that are beyond imaginable, and yet Butler is able to think them up and describe the horror with such acute awareness.

Blake Butler hails from another planet, a planet where fiction isn’t just stale, old junk. Butler and writers like him are reviving my hope for fiction. Every line in Scorched Atlas is intensely rich and fluid, it washes against your skin and leaves you dusty. He takes real risks. And despite the complexity and linguistic richness of his sentences, there is still an accessibility that is hard to find in most “experimental” fiction and poetry, and there is an undeniable emotional core to his work, a real heart pumping dust and oil across the pages. Scorch Atlas is a meditation on suffering, the perceived mutation of just being a young person being projected onto a universe ill-equipped to manifest that kind of self-loathing.

Blake Butler has coughed what needs to be read. He is now asking you to read it. Please do.

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Book Review: AM/PM by Amelia Gray

Title: AM/PM
Author: Amelia Gray
Publisher: Featherproof Books
ISBN: 978-0977199273
Genre: Flash Fiction, Short Stories
PP: 144 pages
Price: $12.95
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I haven’t read Amelia Gray prior to this book and I was wondering Why Not and honestly I could draw only one conclusion: I was a fool but not for long as I have discovered her writing and she is beyond excellence. AM/PM takes you to areas and places you can’t imagine. I had a tough time writing this review, because this book is not an easy read as well. It is challenging and it stretches your mind and imagination, so for one: Be prepared.

This book looks like flash fiction, and that’s a shame because I think it may turn off some people who would enjoy this book. Rather it’s just a bunch of short kind of interconnected little episodes from a recurring group of peoples’ lives. From the banal to the outright absurd; to I guess what would be harsh rules for cats followed by a cats argument for why they should have ownership over something they have made warm with their body and cozy with their claws.

AM/PM is a collection of 120 micro stories, all only about 100-200 words. Many may dismiss such short stories, but truly, these quick reads had more heart than a lot of other short stories I’ve read. Each story in AM/PM is a study in excellent sentences. Gray chooses her words carefully, and the result is sentences that hit you in three places all at once, sentences that can be funny, sad, and absurd. I read most of these stories at least twice, sometimes three times. These aren’t vague, self-indulgent stories written by some trend-watching wannabe. They are real, and they pack a punch.

Certain characters have their own stories while also mingling with characters from other stories, which lends the book a neat interweaving thread. We get glimpses into the most private aspects of other people’s lives, their secret loves, joys, and desperation.

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Book Review: The Universe in Miniature in Miniature by Patrick Somerville

Title: The Universe in Miniature in Miniature
Author: Patrick Somerville
Publisher: Featherproof Books
ISBN: 9780982580813
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
PP: 307 pages
Price: $14.95
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Looking for a collection of stories that never bores? That always retains its flavor and texture? In his new collection of short stories Patrick Somerville has, with scattered precision, invented a whole new genre. The stories are intertwined in an Escheresque way that allow you to discover them again and again, backwards and forwards, sideways and roundabout. If you are a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Alice Through the Looking Glass, if you enjoy science fiction and love stories, and if you like a little apocalyptic darkness mixed in with your post-millennial philosophy you will fall in love with these stories. If you want to know the answer to: what should you do with a billion dollars? Then read this book.

For example, the opening tale, which gives the collection its name, introduces us to the School of Surreal Thought and Design. SSTD makes an appearance in other stories that do not involve the characters of the first. Similarly, the random stabbing of a young man on the street plays a role in at least three of the stories. Characters, meanwhile, make an appearance in seemingly unrelated stories, serving to provide a common thread. More important, virtually all of the stories are at heart about their characters, characters often broken in one way or another. Those who are damaged often are, as one says, “stuck in time” or, in the words of another, represent “the human mind trapped by itself in a vacuum but there’s a very small window somehow within this empty and airless prison.”

This is Patrick Somerville’s most ambitious book by a mile. The characters and situations here are so delightfully varied. In these stories we encounter a group of college students with bizarre self-designated assignments. A somewhat washed up sci-fi writer and his balding friend. A man in the middle of a nervous breakdown. This book stands in stark contrast with other collections I’ve read recently, where it can feel like the same character is being used in ever story, re-named again and again.

I was also impressed by how comfortably Somerville shifted tone and genre, which came as something as a surprise considering that his earlier books were traditionally literature (with a few shots of oddness here and there). “No Sun”, for example, is a grizzly, stripped down tale of survival in the vein of Justin Cronin’s “The Passage”. The next story, Varra in the Woods, is a straight-up horror story with parental overtones, while “The Wildlife Biologist” is a very honest, naturalistic and probing look at high school lust and middle-age failures.

Combining a light touch of science fiction with greater emphasis on the characters, “The Machine of Understanding Other People” also helps epitomize Somerville’s “genre-busting.” Yet it also reminds us that the work as a whole may be its own machine of understanding other people, one that tends to give insight into not only the empty prison but, more important, the window.

Any fan of genre-bending, compassionate characters and general goofiness should give this book a shot.