I kinda find it hard to define what Tables Without Chairs #1 actually is. A literary journal of sorts, or a split book more likely even not really, where two writers are working together to achieve what? To have fun first and foremost, but which is also deliberately avoiding classifications or labels. Tough cookie that one.
Brian Alan Ellis´ and Bud Smith´s approach to writing is similar enough, even both have their own distinctive voices, that I see how it makes sense that they work as a team. Plus they rather obviously share the same craptacular kind of humor. The book itself has the rawness and lo-fi quality of a home made record, including monster illustrations by artist and musician Waylon Thornton, of the ´you have to see it to believe it´ kind. Oddly enough they fit, even you know, monsters. Or whatever those things should be.
I´ve read and enjoyed Brian Alan Ellis´ Mustache book, but Tables feels more cathartic but that´s just my uninformed opinion. There is a story of sorts, with “Sexy Time in the Spook House, Oh Yeah!”, a first person narrative told in punchy and quick stories within stories about some guy or the other and him being a reject of a woman. Heartbreak! From smart ass anectodes to spiraling into an abyss of his own making, where BAE at the same time challenges my own observations of what is happening with his lean prose. Similar to Mustache it´s very much an idiot male perspective, with shallowness and sex as something that happens, to - plot twist! - genuine moments of tenderness and feelings. Despite its decidely grittiness it´s rather lovely.
And then it finally moves into Obscurelandia, they do things differently there!, with "Ha-ha! Sad laughter."
Obscure insofar that those are a lot of one-liners, just how seriously I should take them I am not sure. Taking the piss at publishing and everything that comes with it, including by extension taking the piss at himself, it feels like a stand-up comedian routine who totally unironically pokes fun at everyone and everything. Including self-reflection in that kind of "my life" way, told ironically of course. Which might only be fun for other writers, or maybe it isn´t funny at all. The cynicism is strong with this one. From the Indie lit scene to Goodreads to the #amwriting hashtag, BAE doesn´t shy away to confront those who take themselves all too seriously with their own dead set idiocy. He is a smug one, that Brian Alan Ellis.
"When other authors recommend how-to writing books to you on Goodreads, like wtf they trying to say?"
That a correct sentence would be, "wtf they´re trying to say?" Maybe? But that is just a guess. :)
Or about those? "How-to blurb a book", which skims the line between nonsensical and the ridiculousness even seriousness with which books are blurbed by other authors.
"[This writer] writes like a sadistically imaginative child who plays house by burning down the house."
BAE ´s characterization is rather tame, tough, nothing really to piss off anyone, or so I would think. Anti-litery advice of sorts, even he does offer good advice as well, like:
"If a publishing house is willing to print your books out on rolls of toilet paper, sign with them immediately."
This guy clearly knows what he´s talking about, can´t argue with that. Or my favorite:
"Writing is like sending an SOS out into the world and not quite getting the help you need, if any at all."
Bud Smith´s approach to storytelling, in his ´Calm Face´ novella, seems to be a slightly more mature one in comparison to BAE. No bullshit, no pretense, intimate yet natural. Minimalistic, maybe a tad unpolished, but what I like most about his stories is that those are about mundane, every day life things that could happen to everyone, and nevertheless go slightly wrong for stupid reasons. Building a jacuzzi in your apartment, DIY style, is apparently not the smartest thing one can do. Life lessons, kids, life lessons!
He is witty, has an eye for keen observations while feeling natural even those novella in stories are more like short sketches than anything else. A first-person protagonist going through his daily life. That´s pretty much it. How Smith describes those interactions is the real thing as they are nevertheless rather detailed. Those are random, even rather odd, moments in life. From having his morning coffee, to commuting to work, to dealing with a screaming neighbor, seeing a doctor, to his favorite sandwich place closing it feels a bit like reading someone´s diary, or sneaking into a party coz you are a friend of a friend of a friend.
"Know who else came? The lady downstairs who I’m at war with, but that’s normal. She always comes up and knocks.
This time she told us to keep the noise down. I said, “YOU’LL HAVE TO CALL THE POLICE!” and opened the door just enough to slam it for effect. Fun!”
The zen like, stoic quality with which his characters go through life is what makes the story quirky and fun. There is also some undercurrent of longing in them too, which I appreciate. Somehow to do right by the world, a desire to build something out of those puzzles and broken pieces that is worth having.
"City bus almost runs me over. Bus driver has calm face. I have calm face. All bus passengers have calm face. We´re all good here."
What I particulary like about this short sequence is that it captures the moment so well.
Or as Gwen Beatty praised the book so eloquently, more eloquently than I ever could. "A couple of dicks wrote a book!"
Those are some likeable dicks you want to hug and punch in the face. Yeah, you definitely want to punch them in the face.