Wednesday, October 26, 2011

hit submit; the library; Shiga's Empire State

I submitted my first flash story to [redacted] today—my first fiction pitch ever. Though I know that I won't hear anything about it for several months, I still feel very excited about the whole thing. I know that the story will be a tough sell, but I am hopeful.
When it became clear that more time in front of the computer wasn't going to be good for me, I went to the library. I finally returned some books I've had for months and headed to Fiction for something to distract. As I wandered the stacks, composing a post about how browsing in the BPL Central branch is not pleasurable because there are so few books by the authors I am interested in and many, many copies of Lauren K. Hamilton novels, I ran across two small press books in the New Fiction section that I was drawn to: Isle for Dreams by Keizo Hino, published by The Dalkey Archive Press and Follow Me Down by Kio Stark, published by Brooklyn's Red Lemonade. I remembered that there was a Karen Joy Fowler story collection from the 1990s, Black Glass, which was of course not on the shelf in Fiction or SF, but in the basement stacks. After filling out the slip I sat down to read a comic and wait for it to appear on the shelf in the Popular Library.
I read Empire State by Jason Shiga.  The first thing I noticed was the book's color pallet, matte shades of red and blue, done digitally by John Pham. The story skips back and forth through time and the colors help place the reader in time. While this worked well as a narrative strategy, the colors felt drab to me and sapped the settings, such as the library, Lake Merritt(?), and NYC, of strength. Since this book is so much about the contrast between places, and the connection between where we choose to live and the way we live our lives, the coloring choice ultimately reduced the power of the story. The book begins in Oakland, CA and follows the main character, a homebody named Jimmy, on an impulsive, love-fueled Greyhound trip to New York to visit Sara, Jimmy's best friend and crush. He convinces himself that the trip is a step towards adulthood, but from the moment he arrives in New York, wide-eyed and Greyhound-stinky, it becomes clear just how much growing up he has to do. Overall, Empire State, while cute, felt too slight for the treatment—more like a mini than a book. More time spent fleshing out the days and nights on the bus and how naive Jimmy responded to them would have served to make the book more satisfying.

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