June 30, 2011

Passing the Torch: Mark R. Brand on Jason Fisk

Life After Sleep, by Mark R. Brand

It's Jason Fisk Day at CCLaP! And in celebration of Jason's new book with the center, the micro-story collection Salt Creek Anthology, I've commissioned yet another of the regular "passing the torch" essays I run here, in which the author of the previous book the center just published writes a critical examination of the next book being released. In this case that's Mark R. Brand, whose science-fiction novella Life After Sleep sadly says goodbye to the website's front page starting today; if you still haven't read it yourself, don't forget that it's available under the same "pay what you want" system as Salt Creek is as well, meaning you can walk away with a completely free copy of it too if you want. Anyway, here's what Mark had to say about Jason's book, and I thank him once again for sitting and writing this in the first place.

- x -

Remember long-lost friends? Distant relatives? Casey Kasem's Long Distance Dedication? When the heck did the world get so claustrophobic? I'm going to be 33 in a few months, and I've felt this ominous watershed coming for years. Someday soon, when my last long-lost friend, my last second cousin, my last co-worker I worked with a decade and a half ago or the priest that gave me my first communion finally manages to be the final Facebook friend from my past to hobble in from the digital cold, completing a gallery of interwoven relationships that stretches back to my Kindergarten classmates or the other infants in the hospital the week I was born: that's officially going to be the day that I become old.

I remember the days of pen pals. Can you imagine? An institution created, I'm convinced, simply to sharpen the letter-writing skills of grade-schoolers and to fend off the booming silence of a world where the internet as we know it didn't exist yet. Now we have social interaction on demand, across the globe, live 24 hours a day. Best friends living half a country away remain best friends for life. No one ever disappears, and no new friends ever supplant them. Friends that grow apart from you just come up less and less frequently on your Facebook highlights feed. The computers are getting better at knowing who's high on your interpersonal hierarchy. You can say happy birthday at random on every single page, every single day, but there's no need to bullshit the computer. It counts the clicks, measures the seconds. It knows who really matters in your life and who doesn't. Maybe it knows even better than you do.

But there's something about our lives that will never be truly global; the part that we can't shut off by closing the lids of our laptops or selecting "appear away" on the chat window. It's the part that has to share the condo building's washing machines with others. The part where hey it's okay if you use my parking space today, and would you mind returning my grill tongs and my only copy of Iron John that I lent you a year ago when you get a minute? No rush. Sometimes these people remind us that it's sort of nice that the whole world isn't just on the other end of a glowing screen. Sometimes there's an unspoken bond between you. You notice when I come home so that no one tries to mug me while I'm letting myself into my apartment and I'll do the same for you. Will you keep a spare key in case my dog needs to be let out? Sometimes there's even friendship. And sometimes the only thing between you and a neighbor is a good sturdy fence. And God help you if your respective dogs, tree limbs, and other various trespasses dare transgress that boundary. That part we can't shut off is the part that has us cringing in the darkness of our kitchen while someone whose tire just popped because of the nail we accidentally dropped in the parking lot has come to exact revenge in the form of concern in deeply, deeply passive aggressive overtones.

Crap. Hide!

Jason Fisk has written a whole book about this part of us. Salt Creek Anthology is that guilty feeling in the back of your throat when you want to help the lady next door wrestle that Ikea bookshelf she thought she could handle herself, but hey, that would mean you'd have to put a shirt on and we both know that's not happening. It's the moment of raw, metal-tinged silence just after someone you know has said something really awful to someone else without really caring if you heard or not. It's that vaguely queasy feeling you get in your belly when you realize you were right about that boy all along. It's the taste of that cup of sugar that the borrower has no intention of returning, and the way you frown when you wish the ambulance driver would just shut the stupid siren off already because really that person has been walking around dead for years. It's all of this, and much more.

I could go on about how terrific the format is, how clever the organization. How Jason's poetic sensibility has created a short novel that reads delicately and smoothly like wine gastronomy for your eyes. How elegant the e-book looks onscreen and how innovative the book's printed form is. But you know what? You'll read all of that soon enough elsewhere. For now, just read the Salt Creek Anthology, and make sure you've got good sturdy locks on those doors.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 8:23 PM, June 30, 2011. Filed under: Arts news | CCLaP Publishing | CCLaP news | Literature | Reviews |