420 CHARACTERS by Lou Beach


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Eclectic, vivid moments in time, delivered in the exacting limits of social media.

Well, this is one hell of a way to mitigate the boredom of those monotonous Facebook updates. Celebrated illustrator Beach, better known for designing album covers for Weird Al Yankovich and The Flying Burrito Brothers, here turns his uncommon sensibilities to the written word, composing a small fortune in vignettes that originally appeared as Facebook updates. There are a few recurring themes and characters, but most stories exist as such gems on their own that it’s easy to gobble them up like popcorn. An early standout finds an elderly narrator staring at a picture he (or she) painted long ago, struggling to excavate its original meaning. A miner reflects on the closing of his workplace for 27 years: “Where am I going to go every day, what am I going to do with all that sunshine?” Some are completely nonsensical: “I don’t have to listen. I own the ocean,” is just a couplet in one preposterous paragraph. Others are simply, evilly dark: “My hands are bound, and I am pressed against the spare tire. If there was a God, I would believe in him. The lid comes down and I am in darkness. It smells of oil and gas and rubber.” Certainly some will argue that this is just another folly of the blogs-to-books phenomenon exemplified by Stuff White People Like and other humorous texts, but this book has more in common with bold, impulsive flash fiction than it does with the featherweight detritus of the Internet. These moments, even if not all of them are universal to the human experience, are theatrical, instantly recognizable and slide off the tongue with the cacophony of a Tom Waits riff. Don’t miss the bonus section on the author’s website, where celebrity narrators Ian McShane, Dave Alvin and Jeff Bridges lend their unique cadences to Beach’s miniature snapshots. 

An adroit experiment that marries linguistic restraint to literary cool.

Pub Date: Dec. 6th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-547-61793-0
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2011


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