2/5/11

Review of 'Person' by Sam Pink

Sam Pink’s first novel, Person, is a minimalist work full of intense longing and existential anxiety. The novel humorously explores themes of alienation and, while told in a seemingly random yet linear narrative, doesn’t rely on overall plot as a vehicle to convey its ideas.

The scenes in Person are mostly reflections on the anonymous narrator’s life, using internal monologue and fantasy to make sense of the world and his place (or lack thereof) within it. The chapters are often very short. Here is Chapter 8 in its entirety:
Today I tell my roommate how I’ve been regularly taking a multivitamin.

He tells me to prove it by punching through a car window as we walk the streets back from the grocery store.

I am holding more groceries than him. (31)
Person’s narrator wanders aimlessly through life, mostly alone (with the exception of his roommate [perhaps an external reflection of Person's narrator's interior landscape, almost fusing the two into a single character who doesn't like certain aspects of himself which he perceives in the other] and a semi-romantic relationship with a downstairs neighbor).

Using subtle irony and biting humor, Pink contemplates the distance between survival and death in terms of societal expectations versus personal motive, aspiration and necessity:
The grocery store I interviewed at a while ago has asked me to come to a second interview.

For bagging groceries.

They said there might be a third interview too.

For bagging groceries.

At the first interview two people were called from the breakroom when a boss wearing a headset said, “I need two team managers out front.”

One of the team managers, as an interview question, asked me what I thought of as a strong quality of mine.

I said, “I’m good at things.”

And so I was invited back for this second interview.

For bagging groceries.

[…]

Hopefully I can convince the people at the grocery store that I can bag groceries with
sustained success.

That is my goal.

I want to have money so I can buy food and not die.

And I want the world to see my ability as a bagger.

I want people to hear my name and say, “You mean the bagger?”

I want customers to see me bagging groceries and regain all hope for themselves because of how inspired I am. (33)
With only two or three exceptions, the novel consists of one-sentence paragraphs. I’ve been using one-sentence paragraphs since I began writing fiction to depict loneliness, and for other formal purposes. I feel each sentence should stand on its own, as its own limb, emphasizing that each limb has a role to play in relation to the whole body.

One-sentence paragraphs also create the feeling of being disconnected from that body, that every sentence, though related by narrative, stands on its own as a separate entity. When I came across other writers like Noah Cicero, Tao Lin, Sam Pink and many others using one-sentence paragraphs in their fiction I felt, to some extent, less alone—less disconnected.
I have one long word in my head that is millions of words bent together.

The giant word laughs at me whenever it wants.

And no, there is no such thing as a weekend when you don’t do anything during the week.

And yes, I want something definitive to happen.

I think tomorrow I’ll burn myself on the stove so people will feel sorry for me.

Not sure.

It seems like you just have to have an idea about where you are going and that makes things better.

My feet are too cold to sleep maybe that’s it.

And all my socks are gross—too gross for me.

This is the defining moment, when I have enough self-esteem to say yes to better socks and better hygiene.

Goddamn. (74)
Several chapters are presented as alternate versions of their predecessors. This reminds me of the conclusion of A Confederate General from Big Sur by Richard Brautigan (who also frequently used one-sentence paragraphs) in which Brautigan writes seven different endings that vary only slightly, offering different perspectives on the same events.
Sometimes I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment but it’s never after accomplishing something. (80)
Several different words flash through the narrator’s “head hole” (with the exception of the quote below), words which appear in emotional response to external conditions. Pink, in many ways, examines the balance between experience and language, and which informs the other more:
The word “death” flashes through my mind in neon letters.

I see myself saluting it.

I see the right way to do everything but I can’t memorize any of it quick enough. (85)
Person is packed with small, intimate epiphanies that remind me of things I think of and immediately forget before having the chance to write them down—things we all think (in one form or another) and forget and so must constantly relearn throughout our lives. Things we want to forget, so that we may always be surprised by what we already know:
I don’t know if I should judge myself based on what I can accept or what I can’t accept but I do know that I always dislike where I am and then look back on where I was with sadness because it is gone.

(That means I am worthless and it’s my fault.)

Ha ha!

I stand in the playground and I feel like I would never be friends with someone like myself.

Never ever.

That I would never do that.

No I don’t know.

It doesn’t matter.

There should be a word for what happens when you begin to ruin a feeling by saying it. (87)
Person is available now from Lazy Fascist Press. Sam Pink is also the author of I am Going to Clone Myself Then Kill the Clone and Eat It (Paper Hero Press, 2009), The Self-Esteem Holocaust Comes Homes (Lazy Fascist Press, 2010), Frowns Need Friends Too (Afterbirth Books, 2010) and You Hear Ambulance Sounds and Think They Are for You (Heavy Cow Books, 2010). Here is Sam Pink’s blog.

4 comments:

richard chiem said...

sweet ass.

very nice, eric

DJ Berndt said...

cool, man. I love this book.

adam moorad said...

nice work, beeny. i want to checkout a confederate general from big sur.

Eric Beeny said...

@Richard: Sweet, thanks...

@DJ: Cool, thanks. Me, too...

@Adam: Thanks, you should. I really like Brautigan's books a lot...