21 February 2012
This is one of those books that I’ll be re-reading for a long time to come (this means I’m in love, folks). I might even get creepy and start memorizing some of the stories (I may or may not be infatuated). 420 Characters is a great collection of supershort stories (420 characters each—and that’s including punctuation and spaces) and a few accompanying collages by Lou Beach. The series of short stories actually started out as a set of status updates on Facebook (and you know how we love the Z-berg), which apparently have a length restriction of 420 characters (#themoreyouknow). So here we are.
I love this book. I love pretty much everything about it—the striking hardcover, the weirdly gorgeous and thought-provoking collages/illustrations, and of course, the miniature short stories themselves. Because Lou Beach limited each story to a scant 420 characters, every word is deftly deployed to render as much specific detail as possible. Lou Beach creates whole worlds and populates them with wistful cowboys, hopeful teens, and whole bunches of other carefully crafted people, all in stories of just 420 characters apiece.
Most of the characters don’t have names, but they’re distinct, and when a few of them reappear in other stories, you recognize them immediately. Some of the stories span years and lifetimes, and some take place in nanoseconds (like one that’s a guy’s fantasy of being a war hero, which happens in the space between jumping off the diving board and hitting the water). All the stories are engaging, beautifully crafted, and carry a sense of character, setting, and tone that is much larger than their 420 characters. And they run the gamut of topics—there are funny ones, melancholy ones, sweet ones, and ruthless ones—the list goes on and on. This book is like what you always pray a box of chocolates/short story collection will be like (you know, a wide variety of stuff that’s all delicious and doesn’t have that weird one that isn’t on the guide and has unidentifiable crunchy stuff in it).
In each of the stories, you can sort of taste the kind of air that the character is breathing—the language is specific enough that you get a sense of knowing exactly where you are without being told a single unnecessary thing. These miniature stories are part of a larger vision of the universe and we only get glimpses—there are spaces and ambiguities (like the pauses in really good, old-school jazz) that allow us to determine what the stories mean for us, and where the drama and conflict lives. Lou (can I call you Lou? …* cue crickets* Lou it is, then) uses his words as an ultra-fine mesh net to try and capture the shape and feeling of the world. There’s something zen and haiku-esque about Lou’s use of the language—sparse but colorful, somewhat detached (acknowledging the lense), and starkly, cleanly beautiful.
Man, I love these stories.
And I realize that I keep harping on the fact that Lou does all this in each story using only 420 characters. Which, let’s be real, is remarkable. But please don’t think that I keep saying it because the stories are great … for someone only using 420 characters. The stories are wonderful slices of fiction for any category, period.
In honor of Mr. Beach’s commitment to short fiction, I’ll wrap this up quickly: I love this book. The stories are beautiful, detailed, specific, and often humorous. You should find this book and hold onto it forever.
Obsessed? Me? I don’t know what you’re talking about.