There is a governing thread to this but it is beyond us ... . — from This Is Where My Life Went Wrong
According to writer C. Bard Cole, "I never pictured this book being something that book-review pages would be all aflutter over — like, 'Oh, what a great new voice!' I was thinking in 10 years maybe somebody's gonna look at it and say, 'What the hell is this?' Flip though it. Read it. And say, 'What ... what?'"
Good question. What is it? It's Cole's This Is Where My Life Went Wrong (BLATT Books), and what the hell is right. Leave it to the author to describe it in a single sentence in one of the book's 106 chapter headings: "[This is the Crazy Book]."
And it is: This Is Where My Life Went Wrong is a real riot of automatic writing stretching over nearly 300 pages. Some of it makes sense, in whole, in part, or sort of. A lot of it is teeming nonsense: neologisms, malapropisms, puns, list-makings, and wordplay — the rush of verbal invention by turns maddening, learned, childish, delightful, dirty, and audacious.
Here you'll find the libretto to an absurdist "Opera in Two Acts, with a Gun Appearing Onstage in Act 1." Here you'll find the narratively conventional "Capote on Cather." And here you'll find a lenghy paean to the lost storefronts of New York City's East Village, the opening paragraph of which reads, in its entirety:
"Marcovia Delicatessen Convenience Store El Cordoba Corner Store Eden Avon Deli Eden Avon Farm Store Aziz Israel Convenience Soda Cigarette Bereod Milk Cimarron Abdul Aziz Semiphor [sic] Isis Deli Mendoza Ali Christodora House Newsboy Home Vazak's The Leopard Spot Sok's Deli Leshko's Odessa Doc Holidays [sic] Lucys [sic] Metropolic Annie & Sunny's Eden Deli Newsstand."
Tiring of East Village bygone storefronts? Try "letting off steam" in the contemporary closeted South, where, as Cole writes, "Among southern blue bloods and male title competitors, it is considered improper and unsporting to have homosexual relations casually after the age of 19. There are several exceptions to this rule." Cole then explains.
And it must be said: Cole's a winner. This Is Where My Life Went Wrong won an experimental-fiction contest sponsored by BLATT Books (with offices in Berlin and Prague), whose avant-garde "vision" includes the declaration: "We're here to f*** s*** up."
These days, though, Cole's here, in Memphis, doing more than f****** s*** up. After growing up in rural Maryland, after graduating from Sarah Lawrence, after leaving New York in the wake of 9/11, after earning an MFA in creative writing at the University of Alabama, and after leaving New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he's working in the promotions department of WKNO, and he's serving on the production team for friend and Memphis filmmaker Brian Pera. (Past project: Pera's The Way I See Things; next project: a film featuring Ann Magnuson, whom Cole has admired since he was a teen, eager to join New York's downtown alternative scene.)
Cole continues to edit his own online literary magazine, the quarterly Six Little Things. And he's the past author of the short-story collection Briefly Told Lives and a past contributor to anothologies such as Flesh and the Word: Gay Erotic Confessionals and Men on Men 7: Best New Gay Fiction.
Memphis (barring disaster) and the city's less heated literary scene is suiting Cole fine. As he said in a recent phone interview, "I find Memphis a really comfortable place to work. New York's great if you're an artist. But it also instills a hypersensitivity to what other people are doing. ... I don't have a natural desire to see what everybody else is doing all the time.
"Like, I read old books," Cole adds. "To find a book that was written a hundred years ago and that speaks to me is better than finding a new book by a brand-new writer who's really good. A book from a hundred years ago ... it's a point on a map that can lead me to other places.
"That's the kind of reading experience I wanted to capture in This Is Where My Life Went Wrong — that feeling of finding a weird book in a strange place that you didn't know existed."