What follows is the fifth in J. A. Tylerâ€™s full-press of Subito Press, a series of reviews appearing at [PANK] over the course of 2012, covering every title available from Subito Press. J. A. Tylerâ€™s previous full-press series have appeared at Big Other (a full-press of Calamari Press) and with Mud Luscious Pressâ€™s online quarterly (a full-press of Publishing Genius Press).
Fiction winner in the 2008 edition of Subitoâ€™s annual competition, Andrew Farkasâ€™s story collection Self-Titled Debut is, on one hand, a book filled with intelligent and able-bodied stories, but on the other, a collection that unfortunately stops just shy of being a magnificent book, just short of delivering brilliance.
From the start, Farkasâ€™s book reads as an exercise in obfuscation. The cover itself is a blurred image of a headless man, walking in an undeterminable landscape, bracketed in scars of unidentifiable light; and its title â€“ ÂSelf-Titled Debut â€“ is clearly mocking yet also latching onto this notion of indeterminacy. And while Iâ€™d love to say that there is value in this vagueness, that Farkas is using these motifs to talk about them, over the course of this eleven story collection I am not convinced.
Self-Titled Debut opens with â€˜An Immaterial Messageâ€™, a flash piece where a message that we donâ€™t know isnâ€™t delivered to a person who is left constantly waiting â€“ Farkasâ€™s foray into Beckettian structures. And like a microcosm of the collection as a whole, this story is interesting and well-written, but I was instantly left wondering what it all meant, what it was for, where it was heading or where it wanted me to go. I was, like the recipient in the story, left waiting. In this way, Self-Titled Debut offers story after story that, each in their own way, offer up undeliverable messages, lost causes, conversations with oneâ€™s self, and other various modes of never-connections.
Farkas perhaps unintentionally describes this muddying best himself in â€˜Oublietteâ€™:
It had all begun so simply, so clearly. But from the outset of the evening the situation had become more and more inchoate, until now it was utterly entropic. It started innocently. There was the beautiful, symbolic night; the prospect of an adventure away from the norm; the vigor, the motility to pursue the adventure because of the night one hopes to wrap his mind around; the mystery of the alley (a mystery in a mystery); the deeper mystery of the hole (a mystery in a mystery in a mystery). But now the vigor was replaced with confusion. The confusion was represented by an intense yearning to burst forth in abstract rage, cursing the world for its ill-defined secrets.
In the end, this focus on the vague, on the indecipherable, makes Self-Titled Debut sound like a Poe fanâ€™s wet dream, but the problem in Farkasâ€™s collection is that the book never holds tightly enough to this theme, actually obscuring itself from it. So while this book could have been beautifully playful, Self-Titled Debut seems instead relinquished, at least in my mind, to be a book that is readable and smart, but that falls short of making the impact it had perhaps intended.
Self-Titled Debut is available from Subito Press.
Subito Press is a nonprofit literary publisher based in the Creative Writing Program of the Department of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. We look for innovative fiction and poetry that at once reflects and informs the contemporary human condition, and we promote new literary voices as well as work from previously published writers. Subito Press encourages and supports work that challenges already-accepted literary modes and devices.
J. A. Tyler is the author of the forthcoming novel Water (Civil Coping Mechanisms). His recent work appears with Caketrain, New York Tyrant, Redivider, and Fourteen Hills, and he reviews for The Nervous Breakdown and The Rumpus among other venues. For more, visit: chokeonthesewords.com.