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Welcome To Your New Life With You Being Happy
By Rachel Bell
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
Rachel Bell is
a self-professed member of the "alt lit" community of writers I'm so fascinated with these days (including such other people featured at CCLaP as Heiko Julien, Sam Pink, Jordan Castro, Blake Butler and more), and I had high hopes when starting her brand-new latest story collection, in part because I had been told that my main complaint about alt lit writers (all style, no substance) is largely limited to the male writers of that community, and that female alt lit authors were doing things a lot more substantial and interesting. (UPDATE: Rachel wrote to let me know that she in fact does not associate herself with the "alt lit" term.) But alas, although Bell's actual writing style is indeed more narratively focused than, say, the endless shopping lists of someone like Tao Lin (easily the most famous of the alt lit writers, although God only knows why), this still turned out to be not so much a collection of actual short stories with beginnings, middles and ends, as it is a collection of just tiny random observations about Bell's life, literally as if you were a sneaky little brother and snatching half-page glances at her diary before getting caught and angrily chased out of her bedroom again.
This is not necessarily a bad thing unto itself, but it does neatly encapsulate exactly why I find this entire community so frustrating; because for being essentially the very first distinct American literary movement since the rise of slam poetry 25 years ago, there is quite literally nothing there when it comes to nearly every* alt lit writer I've now read, a genre that admittedly has all the fun of a drunken tweet but unfortunately all the lasting power of one too. Bell's heartfelt, occasionally insightful prose holds a lot of promise to be sure (although she definitely suffers from the same problem as a lot of young writers, that her random mundane observations about her new boyfriend are way more interesting to her than I think she realizes they are to the rest of us); but ultimately, I have to admit that I had an even more enjoyable experience simply visiting her profanity-and-alcohol-laced Facebook account, and while this is perfectly acceptable for a random Thursday when I'm trying to kill an afternoon, I simply want more when it comes to a bound full-length book that I am taking the time to sit down and deliberately read. I'm pretty sure that we're going to be seeing weightier and more impressive projects from Bell in the future, but this particular slim chapbook unfortunately misses the mark a bit.
Out of 10: 8.0
*The sole exception so far has of course been Mason Johnson, which for disclosure's sake let me mention that I signed to our own publishing company several years ago, precisely because I strongly suspected that he had a little masterpiece like Sad Robot Stories in him, if someone would merely give him the excuse to actually write it. He certainly did not disappoint.