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Reviews Wed Nov 08 2006
Usually you have to wait until an author puts out a collection of their short stories or some sort of anthology series collects what they deem the best of the brightest of whatever theme or time period on which they've chosen to focus. What happens if you don't have time to read the New Yorker, but still want a short story treat every now and then? Featherproof Books has your answer.
While the local small press publishes full-length novels, they also offer smaller bites of literature to "[whet] your drying palate with cool milky prose." Their Light Reading Series features short stories from both local and out of town authors, some of whose names may already be recognizable, and others whose names you'll surely enjoy getting to know. The mini-books are all downloadable PDF files that are formatted to be printed on regular 8 ½" x 11" paper. Featherproof's website includes directions on how to match the printed page numbers to produce the quarter-sheet sized books—"Crease it like you mean it," they instruct, and, "Don't forget: color is pretty." Color is pretty, but don't fret if you're stuck with a printer that works only in monochrome. The printing process is fairly low maintenance and, with a couple of staples, in just a few minutes you've got your own little book to tote around.
Featherproof has navigated such diverse topics as failed love, competitive familial golf games and vampires in graveyards. After the end of a serious relationship, a young woman questions whether it will ever be possible to fall in love again in Andrea Claire Johnson's "This Is." "The questions now is: This love, this intimacy, this longing—can it find a home, a place with someone else?" Johnson asks, only to leave the question as unanswered for us as it is for her narrator. Zach Stage's brief, one page "The Nightman" describes a scene that is familiar to anyone who's ever been on a bad date. The story is simple and amusing and it works because even if we haven't been in that specific circumstance, we will certainly sympathize with the wish to be pulled away by a mysterious call in the midst of a trying situation. Jeb Gleason-Allured and Todd Dills are notable for their editorial efforts on the literary broadsheet The2ndHand and here the two contribute their unique brand of eccentric and unpredictable prose. Gleason-Allured's "Shooting Music" recounts a romantic night with Annie Oakley, while Dills's "Grandpa's Brag Book" describes a highly competitive game of golf in which a Bugs Bunny head cover, "meant to go on a particular day's winner's driver," brings out bitterness and resentment in this group of brothers, fathers and grandfathers.
Two of the most intriguing stories are Pete Coco's "The Feast of Saint Eichatadt" and Elizabeth Crane's "Donovan's Closet." "The vampires were back," Coco's story begins. "It used to be they would only come into the cemetery at night. They'd smoke their dope and leave a mess of plastic snack bags and Styrofoam coffee cups for Gravey and me to clean up in the morning." The opening is completely unexpected and unlike any of the other stories in the Light Reading Series. Nineteen years old and married to the former cheerleader who is pregnant with his baby, Gabe is in danger of losing his job at St. Vitus's cemetery due to financial cutbacks. Although he's not completely enamored of his job, Gabe has grown used to seeing vampires lurking about the grounds and takes an interest in the little girl who has started showing up there. That the vampires turn out to be far more innocuous that you'd ever think makes for an amusing end to this suspenseful and wonderfully weird story.
"Donovan's Closet" inhabits a completely different realm—that of the woman, hesitant and scared to fully allow herself to be in a new relationship. Usually attracted to what she describes as the "Cute Bitter Hipster," Elizabeth Crane's narrator falls hard for the chemistry student/drummer who tells her that she reminds him of his favorite story. Unbeknownst to Donovan, she falls in love with his lemon-scented closet and uses the key to his apartment to spend time there while he's out. After an awakening in a Barney's dressing room she finds she needs the closet less and, perhaps, Donovan more. There's no explanation for this girl's closet-bound activities, but like the narrator's reliance on her Magic 8 Ball, behaviors in relationships often defy reason.
You've got to admit it: the mini-book is an ingenious idea. Small enough to stuff in a bag or back pocket, light so it doesn't weight you down, and short enough to finish on a bus or El ride, Featherproof has found an excellent way to bring the writing to the people. Completely free (although you can make a donation via PayPal if you're able), Featherproof's Light Reading Series is indeed the perfect little drink to quench a parched literary throat.
Visit Featherproof Books at www.featherproof.com to download the mini-books, check out their latest releases and find out where they'll make their next appearance.