Tiny Hardcore Press, $7
There’s a lot of delusion involved in trying to find someone on Craigslist Missed Connections. The writer deludes herself into thinking that the message will find its intended recipient. The reader deludes himself into thinking that the the stranger with whom he shared a glance in the bookstore just happens to want to talk about their connection anonymously on a website better suited to finding garage sales or cheap furniture. Everyone acts on faith that the beautiful person at the gym or across the aisle at the grocery store could feel the same way they do. It is a weird corner of the internet: a gathering place of regrets and could-have-beens, an intersection of desire, delusion, hope, and isolation.
Enter Brian Oliu, who, over the course of a month and a half in 2010, posted twenty-two lyric essays on the Craigslist Missed Connections board of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he lives and teaches. Tiny Hardcore Press has collected the essays in So You Know It’s Me, their second title, after xTx’s Normally Special. So You Know It’s Me is built of electrifying glances, imaginings, recollections, and variations on simple, repeated phrases. Like many actual Missed Connections, the language seems to be a thin shell around a core of warm, obsessive loneliness. In â€œTaska Losa â€“ The Park at Manderson Landing m4w,â€ the narrator lists the things drowned in the Black Warrior River, then writes,
â€œLet me let you in on a secret: this town is falling into the river. Here is a list of everything that will be gone: the stadium where I saw you, the frozen yogurt shop where I saw you, the gym where I saw you, the bookstore where I saw you, the store where I saw you, the store where I saw you, the intersection where I saw you… Where will that leave us?â€
The essays inhabit and expand their odd little genre by maintaining their Craigslist-style titles (e.g. â€œRoll â€“ Bryant-Denney Stadium m4wâ€ and â€œFirst Day â€“ UA Campus m4wâ€) and riffing on the â€œI can’t believe I’m writing this you’ll probably never read this tell me what I was wearing so I know it’s youâ€ apologetic-hopeful-desperate language found in real Craigslist Missed Connections, often to heartbreaking effect, as in the final essay:
â€œTell me where I am so I know it’s you. Tell me about the time when so I know it’s you. Tell me the shape of my face so I know it’s you… If this is you, tell me these things. If this is you, twenty-two. If this is you, remove your face from the faces of all of these girls I’ve been missing when all I’ve been missing is you.â€
The essays that compose So You Know It’s Me lose something in the translation from Craigslist posts to physical, bound work. Craigslist deletes posts older than forty-five days, which means that as the final essay was published on the site, the first was being erased. By vanishing after only a month and a half, the original Craigslist posts were able to embody the fleeting quality of romantic obsession. The essays themselves became missed connections. Of course, physical form also means permanence, which means the work is back out in the world, finding an audience more appreciative than the lovesick denizens of Tuscaloosa. Whatever form Brian Oliu’s writing takes, it gets me excited because it does something that few other literary works attempt: it turns disposable internet dribblings into something beautiful, smart, and memorable.
Ian Denning is currently enrolled in the MFA program at the University of New Hampshire. His fiction has appeared in A Cappella Zoo, 5×5, the Absent Willow Review, 34th Parallel, the Rio Grande Review. His reviews have appeared on the website of the Bellingham Review, Cerise Magazine, and forthcoming in the Mid-American Review. He blogs at http://citizendork.tumblr.com.