Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Book Review: The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, edited by Davis Schneiderman

I really have mixed feelings on this one. Any anthology is inevitably going to be uneven (even if it's just due to subjective taste), especially when the category is as broad as "experimental" writing. So it is with The &Now Awards 2.

Just a couple disclaimers. I haven't read the first &Now Awards and this was sent to me as a review copy (thanks Lori!).

So let's start off with what I didn't like. One was pretty much all of the concrete poems in the book. Some, like Jack Collum's work, were okay. But the rest were just flat out uninteresting to me. Most of the ones in this book especially are more about art made from letters than poems with unusual typography. None even really worth a second glance.

Then there are the pieces in the work that were frankly just boring. For example, Joe Atkin's "BOXXY FOAR 4DD1@!!!!1!!" is nothing more than a transcript of a vlog by the internet celebrity Boxxy. The reasons behind the piece don't make it any better. Yes, I think we were all aware that Boxxy's appeal came from the fact that she was cute and energetic than from having anything of substance to say. We didn't need this pointless experiment to show how vapid internet culture can be.

Another is example is Gretchen E. Henderson's "Prelude from On Marvellous Things Heard". I can't really name anything immediately "wrong" with it. It just does nothing for me.

Henderson's piece also falls into the categories of pieces I simply didn't "get". Pieces like that one, the contribution of a group of writers called the Black Took Collective, and works based on math and computer programming like Nick Montfort's Letterformed Terrain? Just over my head. Were I less charitable reader, I'd be inclined to label them as academic masturbation.

Okay, I've bashed this book enough. Time to talk about the stuff I liked.

My favorite pieces in this book were Brian Evenson's two contributions. "Windeye" is a short but straight forward horror tale about two children discovering a mysterious window on the outside of their house that doesn't seem to be anywhere inside. "A History of the Human Voice" is a humorous story in which a scientist discovers the connection between the human voice and bees.
Indeed, as recently as the 1860s, certain elite circles on the continent are said to have augmented their speech with bees. 
Another favorite of mine was Roxane Gay's "I'm Going to Cook Our Dinner in My Easy Bake Oven and You're Going to Like It". This funny yet romantic piece is a breath of fresh air in an anthology which has too many writers that take themselves too seriously.
That's right. I'm going to cook dinner for us in my Easy Bake Oven. It's going to be delicious and fucking romantic. You're going to eat my Easy Bake Oven dinner and you're going to say it's the most amazing thing you've ever put in your mouth other than, perhaps, me.
A piece that surprised me in it's effectiveness was Kate Durdin's "Anna Nicole Show". Like Atkin's piece, this is also a transcript of a video. Specifically, the Anna Nicole Smith "clown" video. Each of the people in the video has their parts broken into their own page, removing the context of the exchange. This forces the reader to imagine the exchange on their own. The effect makes a disturbing video seem all the more disturbing.
MECHANICAL BABY: Mama. Mama. Waaah. Waaah. Waaah. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama. Mama

The flash fiction pieces by some of the more recognizable names in the book (Alissa Nutting, Amelia Gray) also work very well. Jennifer Karmin's aaaaaaaaaaalice is a fascinating libretto/score that I would love to see performed. The sample chapter of Elizabeth Gentry's forthcoming Housebound has me wanting to read the rest. JA Tyler's "The Gone Children They Said Tell Us a Story" is a sharp series of mini-fables. 

Given what I liked and didn't like about this book, I guess I'm more of a traditionalist than I thought. 

Overall, while I didn't like this collection as much as I thought I would the good stuff is still good enough to give this a recommendation. Just beware, you will come across work in this book you will not like. Even if you're the most adventurous reader out there.  

Buy The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing here.

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