Flatmancrooked is gaining quite the reputation for innovative book marketing. Last year they launched Emma Straub’s novella, Fly-Over State, by asking people to buy a “share” in the project, which includes a signed first-edition copy of the novella. This year they tried the same approach with Alyssa Knickerbocker’s Your Rightful Home, with equal levels of success.
As well as being part of the Launch project, James Kaelan’s short story collection, We’re Getting On, is also part of the new Zero Emission Book Project which aims to offset the environmental cost of book production. Each first edition of the book is made of 100% recycled post-consumer paper, with covers made of seed paper. This means that if you were to plant the book, it would grow into a tree. Such beautiful circularity. But presumably you will want to read the book before you plant it, so first of all you need to figure out whether you will like it.
We’re Getting On consists of four connected stories focusing on hipsters after the apocalypse. It is exactly the sort of book that would be sold in Urban Outfitters, though like most books sold in Urban Outfitters it mocks the people who shop there. The collection’s first story, ‘A Deliberate Life’, takes place in a hellish land where everyone rides bicycles just because some guy does, and wears glasses they can’t see through, and spends a lot of time picking out quirky t-shirts. As Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho contrasted lists of music and clothing labels with graphic violence, ‘A Deliberate Life’ connects Palestine and Saddam Hussein’s trial with a meaningless cycle of bands, bars and booze.
The characters in We’re Getting On are not nice people: when told that the women he’s just gone home with might have a contagious disease, one narrator thinks: “Whatever I might contract from her, I thought at the time, would be a small price for the boost in status.” Other characters start fights, have hate-sex, and generally think stupid and unpleasant thoughts.
It’s not fun to read stories about horrible people, but there is a point: “In my circle,” says the narrator, “you’re only allowed to worry about things that don’t matter, like bands and trials and fashion.” Although I hated these characters, I still felt a little cheer rise in my throat at the end of ‘A Deliberate Life’, when the protagonist makes an attempt to escape from this awful non-existence.
For me, the high point of the book was the second story, ‘You Must’ve Heard Something’. Here we are treated to a handful of uncomfortably intimate snapshots of two people trying to connect in a mysterious world they don’t understand. These characters may be struggling through an apocalypse, but like all the best TV dramas they still make time for witty banter:
“I’m Charles,” said Charles.
“I’m Jane. I’d shake your hand”â€œ”
“But I’ve already seen you change.”
“And we’re standing in different buildings.”
Again, it’s hard to sympathise with them: after describing having sex with an unconscious woman who then presses charges against him, Charles says: “I suppose she was just ashamed for having not paid attention”. The message of the story seems to be that the basic exchange between men and women is sex for food: Charles watches Jane undress, and in return he gives her some rotting apples. The focus of the story is kept tight, and this claustrophobic tone allows the dynamic between the two characters to heighten to a beautifully chilling conclusion. The characters in these stories are ‘getting on’ with each other and with their lives, but just barely.
We’re Getting On is the sort of book that will be sold in achingly cool shops, next to cult novels and Beat poetry and photography books of urban graffiti. If you like that sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like. And if you don’t like it, you can always plant it.