Jonathan Goldstein - It’s like a joke, if jokes were supposed to make you sad instead of happy:We all saw that we were really the size of Chrysler Buildings and sex was about angels dying from the sheer beauty of it all and that the greatest pornography of all was the human imagination

Jonathan Goldstein, Lenny Bruce Is Dead: A Novel, Counterpoint, 2006. [2001.]

Read it at Google Books

"This startlingly original debut from "This American Life" contributor Goldstein is a snapshot of the mind of Josh, a rather confused young man who must cope with his father's listlessness and his own overwhelming lust."

At McDonald's, when I'm throwing out the stuff on my tray, there?s a point where I get scared that my wallet could have been on there, too. I always think, as everything is tumbling into the garbage, that I might have tossed my wallet on the tray and forgotten. It always feels possible.
So begins Jonathan Goldstein?s first novel, Lenny Bruce is Dead. It?s the story of Joshua, a young man who?s uncertain about a lot more than the possible loss of his wallet. He might as well be talking about his whole life. Josh is having a hard time finding his way in the world; deciding on a career and keeping a girlfriend are too much to handle, not to mention the fact that after the death of his mother he has moved back into his childhood suburban home to be with his father, Chick. Oh, and then there?s the arrival of the Moschiach (inventor of the infamous Love Lotion) to further complicate things.

Lenny Bruce Is Dead walks a tightrope between being searingly funny and poignant ? you?ll laugh, you?ll cry, you?ll long for Love Lotion (and a Moschiach of your own). And you won?t forget Josh ? ineptitude, scatological neuroses, urban angst, self-deprecating humour and all.

"A funny, sad, lyrical, totally perverted examination of what happens to people when the culture cares too much about sex." - Neal Pollack

"Jonathan Goldstein is like no one else. He's constantly surprising, simultaneously poetic and hilarious; an honest-to-goodness artist." - David Rakoff

"The cleanest dirty book I have ever read. Goldstein is a goddamn poet." - VICE Magazine

"Josh, the confused, creative, obsessive ladies' man at the center of Lenny Bruce is Dead, is a neurotic antihero as funny and compelling as the ones Mordecai Richler and Philip Roth used to dream up, but funnier and more compelling. With dazzling sentences and deadpan humour, Jonathan Goldstein guides us throught the odd moments and keen observations that make up Josh's gonowhere life: old men at the Burger Zoo demand hardboiled eggs for breakfast and beautiful girls bike through the earlymorning streets of Montreal in their pyjamas, a toothbrush clenched between their teeth. With Lenny Bruce, Goldstein puts the tour back in tour de force." - Paul Tough, editor of Open Letters

"This is an assured, completely original debut from a writer to be reckoned with..." Kevin Connolly

"One wishes Lenny Bruce is Dead a long life." - Kevin Chong, The National Post
"Goldstein, a former fixture on the Montreal spoken word scene, delivers a disjointed blast of fictions (is it a novel, are they "deep thoughts," are they short stories??) with Lenny Bruce is Dead. The bite-sized chapters are full of skewed observations told in a very entertaining style akin to Hal Sirowitz (or as poetically bold as Jeffrey McDaniel) as they chronicle a horny young Jewish man in a world of ambitious failures. Goldstein, who is now a producer for PRI's This American Life, has written a compulsively readable gem and hopefully we'll see more from him in the future. - Recommended by Kevin Sampsell, Powell's City of Books

"Goldstein's woeful, funny debut novel is a series of aphorism-capped vignettes, paced at the rate of approximately one scene per paragraph. As these snapshots flash past, protagonist Josh ages rapidly from child to onanistic teen to depressive adult, mourning the death of his mother and the loss of a series of vividly described girlfriends along the way. Throughout, descriptions of Josh's suburban-anytown Jewish upbringing and job at local fast-food franchise Burger Zoo, while peppered with scatological and Portnoy's Complaint-esque sordidly sexual details, often achieve a level of nuance that's poetic and almost profound. In the latter third of the book, Josh's preoccupation with a Hasidic neighbor and the "Rebbe's Kosher-style Love Lotion" that he begins to experiment with grow repetitive and confusing. But "This American Life" contributing editor Goldstein has a knack for imagery ("He was crying on the floor, pulling toilet paper off the spool with both hands like he was climbing a rope") and ear for hyper-realistic dialogue, making him a writer to watch." - Publishers Weekly

“It was happening so fast. He had this funny feeling that it might be him. It might be him that this was all about …
This is how you become a certain way. This is how you become who you are.” - Jonathan Goldstein
Reading Lenny Bruce is Dead is like channel surfing through a movie that occasionally, and terrifyingly, reminds you of your own life in shocking and embarrassing ways. Goldstein’s style is both guileless and visceral, with a humour and delicacy that reads like the sort of poetry you hesitate to call poetry because poetry doesn’t usually have so much ejaculation in it. It is the seamless contrast between the obscene and the transcendent that gives the writing its profound power. Imagery, gorgeous and decadently crude, completely unconnected to the narrative, lingers for days:
“He liked jerking off to flappers. These women were all dead but their spirit lived on in his erection and when he came, they died all over again.”
There is a sort of magic realism inherent in certain imagery that lends a lucid, dreamlike quality:
We all saw that we were really the size of Chrysler Buildings and sex was about angels dying from the sheer beauty of it all and that the greatest pornography of all was the human imagination.”
The prose is infused with a longing for which there is no cure, except perhaps to read books like this one.
The novel, the scanty plot of which concerns a young man called Josh whose mother dies and leaves him and his emotionally helpless father alone to cope with her absence, is held together and made cohesive by remembered moments of his life that lend context to the dishevelled present:
“He ran through the snow and all he could see was white. It was as if he was dead and nobody could see him. At the depanneur, he walked through the aisles and pretended he was car exhaust.”
The novel is filled with small, breathtaking moments like that, moments that rip you backwards through time until you are a kid again, eating cereal while watching early 1980s cartoons in your He-Man underpants. It somehow evokes perfectly whatever time period in which you grew up and the time when life was the most confusing. You know you will never be happy like that again, except in retrospect.
The narrative is broken up into tiny increments that are the literary equivalent of snapshots taken randomly out of the album and scattered on the floor. These little vignettes are memories not only of Josh’s childhood and his dead mother. They also include the sordid details about all the girlfriends he has ever had, his relationship with his father, his rabbi, several of his friends, the coming of the Moschiach, and an arch nemesis or two. It isn’t a novel about coming of age, however. It has nothing to do with resolving parental issues, or coming to any conclusions about the mysteries of the human condition. Goldstein’s style has a disquieting morbidity, reminding you at the least likely moments that you are afraid to die. Certain lines of dialogue and internal narrative that perfectly articulate all the insane thoughts you don’t have the courage or imagination to put into actual words. Thoughts too profound to share out loud are expressed so simply, they almost seem mundane:
“He woke up in the middle of the night and felt nothing but that he was alive. This was the panic he kept trying to describe. Being.”
Each paragraph of Lenny Bruce is Dead is a novel of its own. Cut each one out and slip them into fortune cookies. Break one open when you need to reminded that any stupid, shitty forgettable moment of your life is beautiful and irreplaceable, no matter how disgusting or embarrassing it is. It will tell you over and over: You are completely and irretrievably alone, but you are not the only one. There is no prize for most pathetic, least loveable, or easiest to confuse. We’re all in this boat together and it’s sinking, so don’t miss out on any opportunity you get to jerk off or get laid or eat something you know will give you diarrhoea later, but what the hell. “One day there will be no difference between anything.” Goldstein writes, “It’ll all be the exact same thing. One day you’ll look in the dictionary and there will be only one word and you’ll just have to make do.”
There are books you love for reasons you can’t explain. It has little to do with what the book is about. None of the essential plot points are more meaningful to you than the ones in any other book. It isn’t the way the narrative resolves itself perfectly or charmingly unravels at the last possible minute, so you’re never quite sure if you got it or not, or even if you were supposed to. If you worry about whether or not you are “getting” a book, Lenny Bruce Is Dead probably isn’t for you. If you want a book that gets you, even if you don’t get it, then give it a try. I doubt you will be disappointed. And if you are, at least you will feel understood. Goldstein’s narrative is seemingly plotless and disjointed until at the end of it all, you look back and say, Okay. I sort of get it now. Can I just start again, please? I promise I’ll pay attention this time. For what has been called an experimental novel, there is no gimmick here. Just an honest and hilarious and deeply human story that has haunted me for nearly a decade. I’ll keep reading it, again and again, for all the decades to come." - McKinley M. Hellenes

It’s like a joke,” said Ira Glass, “if jokes were supposed to make you sad instead of happy.”
That’s a line taken from the foreword to Jonathan Goldstein’s first novel, Lenny Bruce Is Dead. The book was originally published in 2001 and is being re-released this month by Coach House Books.
I have set up this review to reflect the form of the book to mentally prepare you for the experience of reading it. You’re welcome.
Glass’s foreword also compares the novel to a low-stakes poker game in a buddy’s basement. He is perfectly right, but I would even take the analogy a step further: the deck is missing cards. Maybe the deck is made from two separate decks cobbled together. You begin to get the suspicion that your buddy knows which cards are from which deck. He seems to do a bit better than everyone else, week in and week out. But not by so much as to suggest obvious cheating. And in the end, is it worth bringing up? Won’t it just start an argument and hurt everyone’s feelings? It probably will.
What I’m saying is—there doesn’t seem to be, at first glance, any rhyme or reason to the way Lenny Bruce Is Dead unfolds. But it’s a sort of chaos that works so well, you have to assume he’s doing it on purpose.
I had a conversation with my mother about this book over lunch on Friday. I told her about how different it was from other novels, how obtuse and abstract. She brought up the “A two-year-old could do this” canard that gets tossed around so much in the visual arts. I leaned forward and prodded the air between us with my finger. “It’s a question of trust,” I said. “It comes down to—do you trust the author?”
Goldstein, host of CBC radio’s WireTap, is evidently a strange, absurd genius. The novel is a series of short, unconnected, non-linear paragraphs about the life of a certain Josh, an unimpressive Montreal Jew with problems multifarious.
The structure of the novel suggests a kind of a literary Jackson Pollock. There are different colours visible, different strains. You sense that everything is connected somehow, and, standing back to see the whole of it, you perhaps are moved to emotion. But up close, it’s hard to parse.
I remember reading in a review somewhere that Lenny Bruce Is Dead contains as much white space as it does text. This is not true, but it’s not totally false. It functions much like memory. Everything is out of order and floating in blankness. You feel like there’s a lot you’re missing, and, let’s be honest, there is. But you can still get a picture of what happened.
The vignettes, as Glass notes, blur the line between comedy and tragedy. Often hilarious—thanks to Josh’s capacity for quirky, unusual observations, and his unerring focus on the sexual and the scatological—it is hard to read all of them in sequence without starting to see the sad side of them.
His dead mother, his listless father, his string of failed relationships, doomed from the beginning, his pathetic job at Burger Zoo, his affiliation with a Jewish messianic sect. It was hard not to imagine the book as written by Mordecai Richler’s younger, time-traveling bizarro doppelgänger.
Lenny Bruce Is Dead is a strange piece of work. I feel like it’ll stick in my gut for another couple of weeks, chewing tinfoil and flicking its tail, like the reptile one of Josh’s girlfriends believes lives in her stomach. Maybe you like that kind of book, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you’re not a Jackson Pollock fan. Maybe you’ve never hankered, as does Josh, for the Rebbe’s Kosher-style Love Lotion. In any case, it’s a quick read and hard to put down. You gotta give it that." - Alex Manley

"The elegiac tone of Jonathan Goldstein’s first novel, Lenny Bruce Is Dead, doesn’t have much to do with the death of the iconoclastic, detatched comic of the title. Rather, Josh, who lives in Montreal, is mournful of people closer to home; he’s hard of love and feeling emptied by the death of his mother. Moving in with his increasingly unpredictable dad, he’s troubled by memories of childhood, awakened to them by the smells of feet and food.
Lenny Bruce’s sort of energy lightens Josh’s humour. He imagines himself to be a “neurotic Jewish rooster” and has many a winking comic turn: an overwhelming scent is compared to a cross between “a brand new board game” and “a ten-year-old crapping his pants while hanging from the monkey bars.” At the same time, many of Josh’s obsessions – bathrooms, excrement, feet to be shoved into mouths – push at staid boundaries and speak (like Bruce’s routines) of a tense nihilism.
Josh is most troubled by his inability to express his wonder at the world, and worries about saying the wrong things – or terrible things – and often does. That frustration with language resonates with the book’s structure, a staccato of terse fragments that isolates the characters’ observations, and leaves many gaps to be filled in or uncomfortably passed over. Still, this work is more like poetry than prose, an effect that is heightened by Goldstein’s remarkably controlled language.
Many of the characters, Josh included, are rhetoricians, answering their own questions and telling jokes to themselves. Goldstein himself can seem altogether too self-aware, rehashing the antics of WWF wrestlers with the local rabbi for his own amusement. But perhaps such writing, so precisely observed, blooms in Lenny Bruce-ish insularity." - Mark Pupo

AT McDonald's, when I'm throwing out the stuff on my tray, there's a point where I get scared that my wallet could have been on there, too. I always think, as everything is tumbling into the garbage, that I might have tossed my wallet on the tray and forgotten. It always feels possible.
'I'll never do stuff like that when I'm a father', Josh said.
'You are a better man than I, Gunga Din', Chick said.
Josh thought that bachelorhood would mean he could wear dresses all day, but he never got around to buying any. He woke up at noon and watched The Flintstones. He played Air Supply's Greatest Hits while lying on the floor pretending to have a mental breakdown. He memorized Richard Pryor routines. He went out to buy beer in his sweatpants. He lay under the bed and pretended he was on Devil's Island.
At the bottom of the yogourt, there was something black and beetle-like. He suddenly felt a gob of vomit move up through his throat. It made him feel ten years old.
At the shopping mall there was a teenage boy who handed out pieces of paper.
'You are going to die', the papers read.
Those people thought they were getting coupons.
Josh's father, Chick, wanted to write a book about growing up in New Jersey and he wanted to call it The Corner.
Josh wanted to get his father started. He pulled a piece of loose-leaf paper from his binder and drew the cover. It was a picture of people yelling and fighting and old men sweeping. In the centre was Chick and he was screaming with his hands over his face.
He pulled out a second piece of paper and wrote an introduction. 'The corner was where men met to play cards and fist fight', he wrote.'This is one man's story.'
Before Josh sat down, he always checked the toilet water. There were stories of snakes that had crawled up miles of pipe looking for sunlight. Sometimes, right in the middle of everything, he would get up and look down between his legs.
Chick once told Josh about an old army buddy of his who went around kissing women on the hand every time he was introduced. One day he kissed the cherry on the end of a woman's lit cigarette. His lip was burned so bad he had to go to a speech therapist. It was one of his father's this-is-what-you-get stories.
Frieda, Josh's mother, would bring over food she made for him. Sometimes Josh ate it from a pot because all the dishes were dirty. He called it 'cowboy style'. When the coffee table was too cluttered and he had to eat it off his chest, he called it 'deathbed style'. One time someone came over and left a skateboard behind. He ate off that for a while, wheeling it behind him on a shoelace as he went from room to room. He called it 'little boy lost'.
Chick smacked his thighs, searching. Frieda called it the car-key dance.

Socrates Adams hits notes of absurdity and tenderness at the same time: A physical connection means that an intellectual and emotional connection will follow soon afterwards. We are so close to having rapport, Ian. You can almost taste our rapport

Socrates Adams, Everything's Fine, Transmission Print, 2012.

"Overall… this is a highly enjoyable and assured debut. It is also testament to the powers of dedication and enthusiasm of independent publishers: Transmission Print is a one-man operation publishing one book a year, yet this dust-jacketed paperback is so lovingly produced that it puts most of the offerings of the big publishers to shame. The text is clear, the paper crisp, and the novel a joy to both hold and read – the perfect tonic next time you pull a sickie from the office." - The Manchester Review

"Released at the beginning of the year, Everything’s Fine by Socrates Adams is a thrilling debut novel. Published by Transmission Print, Adams’ novel fits squarely in the ‘alt-lit’ scene. It’s a tribute to the independent publishing world as Transmission is a one-man outfit that only produces one book per year. If they continue to select books of this quality, then they’ll surely be around for a while.
At times full of self-deprecating humor and riddled with doubt and other times full of poignant beauty and wit, this is a solid contribution to the burgeoning alt-lit scene that has exploded in recent years on the internet. Images of Donald Barthelme wrung through my skull as I devoured this relatively easy, yet utterly rewarding, read. It’s also comparable with some of Tao Lin’s fiction on the most surface of levels (namely the sparse prose, short sentences, and repetitive, lyrical quality) but, upon closer inspection, I believe Adams grounds his text with more of a human touch, breathing life into his characters, thus giving them a more three-dimensional feel.
The narrator, Ian, is a hapless man, a modern take on the everyman. Partially as the result of outside forces, such as his demeaning job selling tubes, and his own insistence on leading a fulfilling life in an otherwise purposeless day-to-day existence, make for an intriguing character sketch.
His main job is take a tube home with him and look after it, something his boss, the man who demoted him to the position of “Tiny Shit Head.” He soon names it Mildred, and becomes increasingly obsessed with its care. Paranoia meets the mundane the quirky is thrown up against the unremarkable and the result is a richly textured novel that is about much more than Ian’s daily struggles.
The dream of a holiday spent in the French/Italian Alps continues to appear throughout the book, almost serving as Ian’s guiding light, his main reason for existence, a chance to escape his boring work life that is slowly consuming.
At the core, I suspect, is the fight to carve out a special nook of humanity in an ever-increasingly sterilized world. The market has seemingly already been corned in literature about the alienated urban male, yet Adams’ provides a fresh view by linking it with the irrationality of corporate ambition. Ian, for all of his idiosyncrasies, is the perfect conduit for this message as his intelligence and humor shine through and become relatable despite some of the more absurd sections of the book.
For me, the same things that make this book on the verge of greatness are the very things that keep it grounded, weighed down merely as a solid first offering ripe with potential. The repetitive style of many of the sentences, often told, in short, spare sentences, left me in a bit of a trance part way through the novel, almost lulling me to sleep. But, by the end, it’s clear that this is the author’s intention as it reflects Ian’s monotonous life.
Splitting the narration between Ian and Mildred, by reversing the lens through which this tale is told, allows Adams more freedom to delve into the comic undertones of the tale while not forsaking the more serious sections. As with most successful black comedies, there is tenderness underneath Adams’ bountiful wit and sarcasm, barely visible at first but gaining power as the story unfolds.
Maybe the best way to describe the book is to take directly from it, to heed its advice that “All human interaction is sales.”
The epilogue, more specifically, the final few lines, delivered a feeling that had been bubbling just under the surface for the entirety of the book. “Like a dream, my existence continues. Perfect, unchanging. No beginning, no end.” Simple yet insightful, its clarity in message and tone sums up the book in way that hints at a methodical plan. One that is executed almost to perfection throughout as the reader is sucked in to Ian’s world only to be spit back out again at the end, left wondering about their own existence, and the ultimate value of it.
Everything’s Fine is a sophisticated novel and highlights Adams as a talent to watch. It’s not everyday that I come across a debut novel that is so sure of itself, so comfortable in its own skin. The refreshing quality of a young author maintaining his vision throughout the text, to create an overall entertaining and thought provoking read, is a rare gem nowadays. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for his sophomore offering.—Patrick Trotti

"In his first novel, Socrates Adams doesn't seem that bothered about giving you an easy ride. Yes, there's the humour, a requirement for the 'alt lit' canon, and the thread with which he pulls you into his yarn, to have you wince for his characters and cringe through the situations they create for themselves. But it's not the laughs that make this debut an impressive one.
It's the mixture of everyday melancholy and absurdity rendered relatable, even controllable, which makes this a worthwhile journey into the mind of this 'everyman'. Not that Adams' protagonist, the suitably named Ian, is quite an 'everyman'. It's just his circumstances that make him that way; working a demeaning job, striving for superfluity to fill a purposeless existence, functioning as a mechanism in a sewage system that floods muck onto everyone involved.
Ian's job is to sell tubes but he is hopelessly failing to meet his targets, thus his condescending, alpha male boss demotes him to the position of 'Tiny Shit Head'. His boss gives him a tube that he must look after, to treat it like a daughter. He names his tube Mildred. As you can probably tell, events slowly become colourfully demented, much as Ian does, through malnutrition, obsession and confusion. Written in delirious, panicky sequences reminiscent of Hamsun's Hunger with added fridge-licking paranoia, Adams is more jaunty and aware of the humour of his situations, and opportunities to carefully and expertly place amusingly desperate exclamation marks.
Narrated by Ian, and sometimes Mildred, our Tiny Shit Head divides his time between work, looking after his tube, completing online surveys, quivering from constant surveillance by his boss, and saving for a holiday in the French Alps. He also meets a girl, Sandra.
Though, from this description, this plot may seem knowingly "quirky", it is a much darker and more satisfying read than most that carry such a cursed tag. And its success, though demonstrating some imaginative design, is more in its style than its story.
For one, Ian's obsession with "rapport building" is one of many through-lines in the novel. It's a running joke (or accurate observation) of Adams' that "all human interaction is sales"; selling yourself, selling a product, all human movement some knowing or unknowing avenue for manipulation, a sentiment which fits in well with the creepy modern resurgence in neuro-linguistic programming, 'life coaching' and other cultish money holes. It works also as an effective turning point for Ian, and the realisation that his entire life is controlled by inculcated desire for one thing after another.
But this 'realisation' isn't just lamented, or moaned about, or even stated plainly. It is, if anything, disguised by the narrative. Going with this subtle approach to an idea that many have tackled, there isn't any of the 'bleeding heart' histrionics that can be common to this territory. Adams understands: noticing these things doesn't make him unique, only human, and his writing shines because of it.
While it's never made completely obvious whether Ian is really being observed by his boss (or whether the voice of his boss is himself, or if he really works selling tubes, or if he's just waiting for repeated death, or if he's actually in a coma, or etc.) Adams' message couldn't be clearer, or more welcome.
It seems to be about becoming deliberately human, or human deliberately, rather than existing merely by accident, or for someone else's misuse. It's to go against the flow of this crappy avalanche. And the paradoxically humanising aspect of merely realising you are in a brutally dehumanising job.
Adams reads as if he has worked at his writing enough to cut out the unnecessary stuff. The removal of a yearning heart and an over-emotional façade. His is a novel that is quite direct and always going somewhere. Only occasionally toward the end can we see the writer's voice slip and push plot over character to develop the direction of his story. In these moments some lines do seem superfluous, some sequences stretched out to bulk up any sudden changes in tone.
This goes a little way in countering the originality of the opening pages, of which, at the outset particularly, small flashes appear on every page, building to create a whole that is wholly original, even if somewhat familiar in structure, and perhaps rushed in its surprisingly hopeful ending.
The epilogue rescues this.
Everything's Fine seems the work of a depressive staving off depression by writing. That seems to be the feeling left by the final page, and marked all throughout, in a familiar message refreshed; that perhaps in creation we might find a place in all of this destruction. Even if that purpose and that position is to transfer sewage from one place to another, muck flushing over the open eyes of art. A heartening message, no doubt. And a beautifully eloquent one made in a near-perfect epilogue. Creation is a conduit through which life/death passes through. Or maybe it's the other way round." - Declan Tan
"In America we would call the lead character Ian of Everything’s Fine ‘work douche.’ Ian is a person that loves his job, that believes in the company he works for, and believes as the novel says, “My company has the desires and needs of its staff at heart.” The lead character reminds me of the people I have worked with at restaurants over the years: fellow employees that got paid less than 10 dollars an hour but still worshiped the company they worked for. There was a cook at one place who seriously wore a Red Lobster coat around, and was very proud of it. Red Lobster gives out rings when you reach 20 years and I have seen people wear those rings with pride. I have seen low ranked employees or as Socrates Adams calls them “tiny shit heads” go up to the bosses and ask about other restaurants, talk deeply with the managers about the remodeling that is going to occur, about the new meal promotions, and how Red Lobster will advertise them. The Ian character is very real, they exist, we all know them.
Ian is that human being that grows up in a highly technocratic developed democracy that ends up working for a giant corporation with a huge bureaucratic structure, but this is the fate of most of us, we don’t end up farming, hunting, or doing any primitive activities that require any sense of adventure or human spirit. We are forced by circumstance and the need for money to beg giant corporations to let us work for them, and if we don’t fit into the mode of ‘good worker’ we are sent to the “tiny shithead department.”
The first person narrative is very cognitive, to me a very accurate view of stream of consciousness. The story isn’t told in first person but in thoughts Ian is having, for example when Ian gets beat up, Ian thinks, “He pushes me really hard and I stumble backwards, apologising again as I fall. The back of my head hits the pavement and then I am not aware of being there anymore.” Adams could have easily written, “The man pushes me, I fall to the ground. While I was falling I told him I was sorry.” But not saying, “The man,” keeps the Other on the outside, it keeps the Other at a distance. You can feel the push so much better the way he writes it. Focusing on Ian’s head hitting the pavement is remarkable to me, I feel that Socrates Adams took a lot of time and really visualized the scene in his head. The writing is not poetic or beautiful, I think what matters here, is the author’s ability to visualize what it would mean to get into a physical altercation concerning his character Ian.
There is a large statement made about what it means to live in the postmodern era, how humans have studied human psychology to the point that we know why we do everything. When Ian’s boss talks to him he says, “I think it is time for your sales training, Ian. I am confident in you. I think you will be able to build rapport very effectively, Ian. You might have noticed I have put my hand on you shoulder. That is because I am building rapport with you. A physical connection means that an intellectual and emotional connection will follow soon afterwards. We are so close to having rapport, Ian. You can almost taste our rapport.” Adams illustrates here and in many other places in the novel how postmodern humans are equipped with knowledge of psychology, and that we are very aware at all times of verbal and non-verbal behavior and what it means. If you have gone to college, if you have studied basic psychology, sociology and consumer behavior, hell, even if you have watched Dr. Phil enough, you have a basic understanding of how humans operate.
Before in human history postmodernism was restricted basically to a novel knowing that it was a novel, but now, humans know that they are living a life. That everything they do and say is just psychology and can be recorded and analyzed by psychologists and sociologists. Which leads to this awesome passage by Adams, “The problem with humans is they don’t know what they were made to do. None of them knows what their natural state is. That is why so many of them roll about and cause a nuisance and end up not doing anything throughout their entire life.” Adams hits on the problem of the modern person living in a highly developed technocratic country perfectly, humans living in countries like America, England and Japan don’t know what they are supposed to do, but at the same time given a million options of things to do. Now, I personally assume it is because there millions of people living in those countries, and to make those countries function they have to create huge corporations fitted with giant bureaucracies, capitalism and corporations are just the end result of having millions of people living in one place. I think Adams understands this, he doesn’t proclaim revolution against the system, only that it is stifling to the human spirit. At the end Ian leaves the modern world and enters into the wild untamed wilderness of the Italian Alps. Ian finally escapes the shitty world of corporate nothingness. But Adams shows that Ian does not know how to live in the wild. The modern man has lost their ability to survive in the forest, modern man has lost their ability to be natural. I think that Adams is making a Nietzschean statement here, that Europe is a continent full of The Last Man, who seek comfort and warmth instead of adventure and danger. Ian does not care any longer about comfort and pleasure, but wants to prove himself as a hardy individual that wants to show evidence he has a reason to exist. Sadly there is no reason to exist for Ian." - Noah Cicero

"Socrates Adams’ debut, Everything’s Fine, concerns a man called Ian and a tube called Mildred. That’s right. A tube called Mildred. Ian is a sort of corporate drone. He works in sales. He isn’t very good. We first meet him sat across from his boss as his boss tells him off for not being very good. It has something to do with the fact that his actuals fall short of his targets. You know how it is. His boss informs him that he has a new job title: Tiny Shit Head. And a new office in the bowels of the building. His new job appears to watch numbers change on a screen. Ian is also given a plastic tube to look after. His boss tells him that the plastic tube is both a plastic tube and his baby. Periodically, his boss sends him text messages or pager messages informing him to look after Mildred. It turns out there is a camera in Mildred. There are also several cameras in Ian’s house. His boss is keeping a close eye on him.
Everything’s Fine is then a little odd. It’s written in shortish sentences and comprised of shortish sections that more often than not come from Ian’s perspective but sometimes come from Mildred’s perspective (Mildred doesn’t like Ian – Mildred could be being voiced by Ian – he does seem to have a few self-esteem issues). Like Daren King, Socrates Adams writes in that faux-naif tone that at once disarms the reader (because you feel sort of sorry for Ian, him being the dufus he is) and suggests Adams is far cannier than you would give the narrator credit for. Having seen Socrates read excerpts from the book a couple of times, I know that its humour can slay a crowd – although I think some of that humour may come from Socrates’ delivery. I also think that there are times, particularly in the early portions of the novel – when Ian becomes a sales person for a strange product called AquaVeg, for example – when an introductory sentence or a short paragraph could help to direct the reader a little better. There is occasionally an awkward obtuseness when you’re expected to make certain leaps (presumably Ian is doing online surveys for money, presumably Ian is a bit delirious from lack of food, presumably we are expected just to go with this imaginary snail) – that an odd line or two of help would offset.
But these are minor quibbles. Everything’s Fine is an unusual and unsettling book, both comic and surreal. Adorned as it is with plaudits from the great and the good, from bright up and comers like Tom Fletcher and Jenn Ashworth to Mancunian stalwarts like Nicholas Royle, I’m sure the future is assured for Mr Adams. The book also has a great cover which recalls Richard Millward’s excellent Apples.
Any Cop?: An auspicious debut and the kind of book you can rattle through in an afternoon (although you might find it stays with you a wee while after that." -Bookmunch

"Everything’s Fine, from Rhos based indie publisher Transmission Print, is Socrates Adams’ debut novel. A new publisher, Transmission Print can be credited with putting together an immaculately presented book; immediately striking is the dust jacket cover, a perfect accompaniment to the relentlessly deadpan humour that exists throughout the book. Those already familiar with Adams’ writing will recognise the tone immediately. Readers new to his work will quickly find themselves enjoying his dry, absurdist take on corporate culture and materialism.
“Shirt tie shoe jacket. Here I am. Sitting nervously in a room on the top floor of the office. This is my boss’ floor. I am waiting for my superior to come and assess my performance over this last month. My performance has not been good. My performance has been bad. The assessment room is mad of marble and gold. There is a platinum fountain full of champagne. There are gargoyles pointing out from the top corners of the room. The table is covered with fur and has elephant tusks for legs.”
The protagonist is Ian, a tube salesman who, despite his fascination with ‘building good rapport’, is not very good at selling things. As a consequence, he is given a tube to look after. The tube is called Mildred. Ian talks to Mildred. Mildred talks back to Ian. This, I imagine, is in Ian’s head, although the reader can never quite be sure given how their relationship ultimately pans out. Quickly, Mildred begins to take over Ian’s life and, monitored through in built tube-CCTV, Ian is subject to continuous harassment from his boss.
Alongside Mildred and rapport building, Ian’s other great mania is his desire to experience the joys of the French Alps, although an infatuation with Sandra, his travel agent, threatens to leave him with the apparently far less attractive prospect of the Italian Alps. Aside from the central threads, there are some fantastically funny moments. In a segment that brought to mind Fitzgerald’s ‘Pat Hobby’ stories, Ian offers his services as a freelance copywriter:
Rare recruitment… provides a personal personnel (these two words need to be carefully enunciated by the actor/actress so that this endearing pun is not wasted) service that is impossible to impersonate. We will find you work by exaggerating your level of experience. (graphic, 3d rotating text ‘Experience not required’)”
The payoff here is both very funny and crushingly inevitable.
The narrative is refocused and given a renewed drive when Ian is finally able to afford to visit foreign shores. As seems mandatory for Ian, events do not go exactly as planned. Adams’ has spoken of being influenced by Hamsun, and this was apparent, although not in a derivative sense, in the descriptions of Ian’s extreme hunger.
“I am hungry. I feel like my insides are cold and thin again. I am in pain, almost constantly, from my stomach. I imagine that a creature is living inside me and is eating my organs, I imagine it crawling around in my guts and nibbling at the soft, warm intestines and kidneys and liver and bones. I imagine it sucking all of the nutrients out of me until I am a thin, grey piece of paper in the shape of a man. I am sometimes convinced I can feel its hooked feet skewering the flesh inside my body and ripping it apart. I imagine it having a bath in my hot, red blood. I imagine it using my lungs as a sauna. I feel like parts of me may stop working any time soon.”
Adams brings ‘Everything’s Fine’ to a satisfying and thoughtful end, the epilogue working especially well. Adams, having worked in recruitment, is writing from what can only be pretty painful real life experience, but his ability to seamlessly work in the bizarre and surreal is clear evidence of his skill as a writer." - Richard Owain Roberts

"Ian works in sales. Unfortunately Ian is not very good at sales. Ian is not very good at knowing how bad he is at sales. Ian does, however, think he does everything in the best way possible and so is convinced he is good at everything. His sales director has a review of Ian's performance and chooses to humiliate and shame Ian into improving.

I had read that this book is funny. I want to take time to explain how I found it. At first I found it tragic. In my years I have dealt with salesmen and seen how some disdain targets. I have seen sales directors tear their hair out trying to get salesmen to try to take targets seriously. I have heard of sales directors trying to humiliate salesmen into improving their results.
Similarly I have seen employees who think they are the best at their jobs and won't be counselled otherwise in order to improve. Worse, to my discredit, I have employed them! Ian is the office nightmare and I felt I knew him.
However Adams keeps taking him and his sales director one further step towards the precipice and away from reality and so it becomes more and more fun as the story progresses. Is there hope for Ian? Will the worm turn? Will the worm take a totally different direction?
This book is a great deal of fun and, while it is not 'laugh out loud' it is funny, tragic and most of all thought provoking and deeper than you realise. I did REALLY, REALLY enjoy this book in a happy, tragic, thoughtful way." - The Mole

"Charting the travails of a call-centre salesman suffering under a demented boss, Socrates Adams’ enviable debut takes its place in a line of bleak workplace satires that runs from ‘Bartleby’ through to Christie Malry’s Own Double-Entry, something like Douglas Coupland but far more surreal and far, far funnier.
The novel begins with Ian, the hapless narrator, punished by his boss (a man who ‘would love to play rugby with the heads of human beings’) for his recent sales figures. The bizarre punishment is being forced to imagine a tube is his baby. He must carry it with him at all times and nurture it. Whenever he fails to do so, his boss, as Argus-eyed as Orwell’s Big Brother, sends him a text, even when he’s in the shower.
From this weird beginning, Ian’s life spirals downward into a nightmare existence whose humour gets blacker and blacker. His job title changes to Tiny Shit Head. He’s forced to work in a different office, manacled to the desk and given the task of counting numbers on a screen. He gets pulled into a sales scam for ‘AquaVeg’, a miracle food supplement that tastes of fish. He goes without food to try and save enough money for a trip to the French Alps, but, overcome by desire for the travel agent, lets her book him one to the Italian Alps instead.
Through all of this, he still has to nurse the tube, which he christens Mildred. But what Ian doesn’t know is that Mildred is a conscious object, with a scornfully superior attitude to human beings. Her narrative starts to intrude on Ian’s as she plans her escape to a life where she can fulfil her function of carrying things from one place to another (But she may not know as much as she thinks she does – with a diameter of only 2.5 inches, any plumber would tell her that any dreams of transporting excrement are likely to end up blocked).
The plot and the black comedy are justification enough alone to read it, but it has to be noted that Adams also manages to introduce some pithy observations about the modern world, where, ‘all human interaction is sales’. For, like all the best black comedy, this bleak book does have a certain human tenderness at its heart, as evinced by the (slightly hurried) ending. It challenges us to consider what our lives have become amidst all this technology and idolatry of business. For example, the scene when Ian discovers his boss suspended by wires in front of numerous TV screens has a nightmarish reality that should make every reader in a multi-TV, multi-computer household shudder. There is also some brilliant riffing on business speak, but this will unfortunately go over the heads of anyone who’s ever done an MBA or believes people really do get excited by blue-sky thinking, etc.
If I have one gripe about the book, it’s the slightly repetitive style, which consists mainly of short single-clause sentences that often loop around the same idea to the point of exhaustion: ‘This neighbourhood is not very welcoming. The people around me do not look very welcoming. I do not feel welcome.’ While this style had numerous adepts, and may well be a reflection of Ian’s monotonous existence, I can’t help feeling it soon feels samey, and ignores some of the possibilities of the English sentence. You can pare down and pare down, but after a while the sentences become a deadbeat succession that sacrifices some of the richness of simultaneity. Perhaps Adams realises this too, for the book does have plenty of textual intrusions, ranging from text messages to domestic accounts, sales leaflets to computer screens, but there’s a real sense of relief towards the end of the novel when the comma is allowed in from its exile.
Overall though, this is a highly enjoyable and assured debut. It is also testament to the powers of dedication and enthusiasm of independent publishers: Transmission Print is a one-man operation publishing one book a year, yet this dust-jacketed paperback is so lovingly produced that it puts most of the offerings of the big publishers to shame. The text is clear, the paper crisp, and the novel a joy to both hold and read – the perfect tonic next time you pull a sickie from the office." - Nicholas Murgatroyd

"If, like me, you prefer to dwell in a literary pit of death, despair, angst, alienation, existentialism, crime, philosophy, pornography and narcotics you may agree that funny books are hard to come by. Genuinely funny books, I mean. Not the ones which have a “I cried with laughter” quote on the cover.

When I read Socrates Adams’ debut novel Everything’s Fine I cried with laughter. Not literally – I never cry with laughter. I rarely even laugh out loud. But if I had cried, one eye would be expelling a tear of joy, the other a tear of sadness, sympathy, pathos and pity. It would be a big tear with many layers to it, like a salty onion.
Everything’s Fine concerns the plight of low-level office drone Ian. Ian enthusiastically attempts to sell plastic tubes for a living by “building rapport” with potential customers. Failing to meet his targets, he is one day forced by his merciless boss to take home a piece of plastic tubing and care for it as if it were his firstborn child in order to better understand his product. It’s a task that Ian plunges headlong into, immediately anthropomorphising the tube and doing to all the things one would do to a baby: naming it (‘Mildred’), feeding it, proudly taking it out in a pram public.
Yet for all his dedication to the company whose ranks he hopes to one day rise through and hard effort at building rapport, all Ian really wants are the simple things in life: a trimmer figure and a girlfriend who he can take to the Italian Alps, a geographical location he elevates to almost mythical status in his imagination.
In giving a voice to Mildred the plastic tube, Adams cleverly turns the banal into the extraordinary and forces the reader to view Ian from the other end of narrative telescope. He illuminates precisely what it is that makes us human: desire primarily, but also having to live with the knowledge that death is imminent. It is what separates us from other animals and also plastic tubes, whose life expectancy spans centuries: “The main difference between tubes and humans is that tubes can withstand misery, indefinitely, without going mad,” explains the tube. “Human beings can only take so much disappointment and misery before their minds break apart. That’s because they only have a short amount of time on the planet and because they are made of pink, mushy material.”
Meanwhile, trapped in Ian’s drab life of longing and fatuous sales lingo, all the tube wants to do is return home to the Far East, where it (she) dreams of one day fulfilling its potential by becoming part of a plumbing system. In fact, the plastic tube proves itself to be a more assertive, self-aware and reliable narrator than her surrogate father - and one not devoid of humour:
“I am specifically formulated to resist stress-cracking. I am a polyethylene-lined, rubber-blend, chemical spray and transfer hose. Lightweight, chemical-resistant, high-specification tubing, perfect for any king of liquid transfer. ​
I will blow your mind.

If you blow air through me onto your mind.

A typical joke a tube might make.”
In this concise novel Adams’ themes include the loneliness of the alienated urban male, the absurdity of corporate aspiration, the aggressive nature of sales-speak and delusions of the individual. His is a style that breathes the poetically skewed surrealist language of Richard Brautigan or Donald Barthelme into the socially awkward workplace dramas in the likes of Peep Show and The Office. It’s a very funny book. Socrates Adams is a funny man.

The name Ian seems perfect for your protagonist. It’s very English, very civil servant – and also rarely used in literature. Did you deliberate over the choice of name?
- No, the name came straight away. In fact, I think before I knew anything about Ian, I knew that his name was Ian. At that time, I didn’t know anyone called Ian. I am very pleased with his name. It makes me think of a very trembly, thin, grey man. That’s why I like it. Someone with a nasal voice. Sorry, Ians.
Ian is trapped at the bottom of a company hierarchy that you suspect he will never ascend. His every move is monitored and he is demoted to a position so lowly his job title is Tiny Shit Head. Kafka-esque and Orwellian are the often-used terms that spring to mind. Yet Ian speaks with an almost glassy-eyed, unerring tone of loyalty to a company that reminds me of those living under the strictest Communist regimes. This is a convoluted way of asking: have you had much direct experience working such shitty jobs?
- Yes. My main horrible job was working as a recruitment consultant. Not only was the job, in my opinion, immoral, but it was target-driven to an almost absurd degree, highly pressurised, and with basically illegally long hours. Part of our training was literally in ‘manipulating people’, and we were told that although we were legally allowed to take two fifteen minute breaks and an hour for lunch, anyone taking more than just ten minutes to stuff food in their mouth would be swiftly disposed of.
The job was so insane that the staff turnover rate was just unbelievable. People would last about two weeks in general, before either being told they were a ‘bad fit’ or they would quit. I would say that in the year and a half I was there, I must have seen around twenty-five new consultants start and finish. This was in an office of around twenty people. Also, the monthly assessments were nothing short of psychologically scarring. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but we had around fifteen to twenty separate targets to hit each month. Missing even one would lead to a bout of really nasty bullying.
Is Everything’s Fine the first novel you have written?
- It’s the first novel I have finished. I started one when I was 16 and got maybe 20,000 words in. Obviously it was awful.
Are there any particular writers who you repeatedly return to for creative inspiration?
- I guess it’s a little boring, but Kafka, and more recently, Knut Hamsun and Daniil Kharms. I find it amazing how modern their work feels. It’s more to do with human nature not really ever changing; people sensitive to the ‘essence’ of humanity will express themselves in a similar way regardless of what time they were/are writing in. Does that make sense? I mean that a ‘contemporary feeling’ is maybe just another way of saying that something is just an honest representation of the way someone feels about being alive - something that will never change in art. Is that even more garbled? Have I gone off-topic?
Yes, but that’s OK. Manchester, where you work and reside, seems to have recently produced a strong batch of new, young writers. I’m thinking of yourself, Chris Killen, Joe Stretch, Jenn Ashworth, Crispin Best. You all seem to have your own distinct voices. Is there a discernible literary scene in Manchester - or have I just imagined it?
- I ended up in Manchester through weird chance - I was travelling around the north of England on a narrowboat with my girlfriend at the time and Manchester was the place we liked most, so we decided to stay here. I think there is a kind of literary scene here - there is a community of friendly people, all trying to produce good work who encourage each other.
I guess the words ‘literary scene’ sort of make you think about gangs of acerbic intellectuals, prowling around coffee shops and smoking each other to death. It’s not like that. It’s just nice, sympathetic people giving advice and support. I also think that the MA programme at Manchester University helped a lot with the creation of this group of people. I also think that the ’scene’ has changed a lot in the last few years, in a nice way. It’s more open, mainly due to websites like Twitter - there is a lot of transparency and it’s easy for new, interested writers to get involved.
You have also starred in an as-yet-unreleased film, Wizard’s Way, that you have made with some of the aforementioned writers. From the excerpts that I have seen I thought you delivered a hilarious performance - especially for a non-actor. Can you tell me a little about the film, and your character Barry?
- It’s a film I’ve made with Chris Killen, Joe Stretch and another friend of mine, Kristian Scott - it’s about what happens to extremely hardcore online gamers when the game they play is shut down. My character is an interesting guy. I don’t want to give too much away because hopefully we should have some sort of announcement to make about this film relatively shortly. Sorry to be coy!
Do you have any future novels planned?
- I’ve finished a second book, tentatively titled A Modern Family, which is about Top Gear, World of Warcraft, the Royal family, painkiller addiction and teenage homosexual lust. I’m trying to find a publisher for it. It’s very very odd and quite different to Everything’s Fine, but I feel really happy about it. I’m trying to write a third novel sort of about a sentient olive tree at the moment.
I find that being interviewed as ‘a published writer’ is not quite as exciting as you imagined it would be when you were an unpublished writer.
- I actually kind of like it, but mainly because I feel like I am just talking to you, maybe, but I feel also, ‘Why would anyone be interested in reading about me - they should just interview their family/friends/lover/whatever, not just some uninteresting weirdo.’" - Interview by Ben Myers

Socrates Adams' blog


Dan Magers scribes as if poet-ghost adrift thru dressing rooms backstage taking notes, capturing the moment in all its lovely eros and happiness and cause for alarm. Writing poems like these is just as good as starting a band when poems like songs flood the brain

Dan Magers, Partyknife, Birds, LLC, 2012.

"Magers scribes as if poet-ghost adrift thru dressing rooms backstage taking notes, capturing the moment in all its lovely eros and happiness and cause for alarm. Writing poems like these is just as good as starting a band when poems like songs flood the brain. I like your smile." —Thurston Moore

"Dan Magers writes some messed-up shit. I don’t really mean messed-up in the sense that it is jacked or bizarre, though he does manage to get poetically unorthodox shit like Cash Money Millionaires, Morrissey album counts, sexy Muppets, and weed and Paxil and Vicodin into scenes where you would not ordinarily expect them. I mean that in Dan Magers’ text the range of logic and approach to how we normally read and receive information is perverted, though in an alarmingly casual way. Like at first it seems you’re being spoken to in party conversation talk, then it seems maybe like you’re on Twitter, then suddenly you’re digging through one of Wittgenstein’s notebooks, then you’re reading a letter from someone you used to know. It swims together into a thing that’s singularly Magers. It's a lot like staring into those Magic Eye paintings at the mall, which I could never do, and so ended up just seeing all these flecks of color flexing against themselves, and all the mall voices weaving into that.
I’m reporting all this on the occasion that his debut book, Partyknife, just came out on Austin, Minneapolis, New York, and Raleigh-based independent press Birds, LLC. The book is shaped like a record sleeve and has six multicolored knives on the cover and on the back. Thurston Moore says, “Writing poems like these is just as good as starting a band,” which is apt because the book is stuffed with all these made-up bands and made-up artists and real bands and real artists all smudged together in this weird, wise, lazy stoner brain assemblage, the movement of which sneaks up on you. It’s cool when a book can access reality in a way that isn’t boring and then append that reality with made-up shit, I think. Partyknife does that in a way that feels fresh and sticky. Last time I saw Dan Magers he was wearing a copy of the book around his neck on a gold chain. It’s like that.
Another thing: dude is funny. And not in the way books try to be funny and aren’t funny really for what they are but because you know it is supposed to be—like here’s my funny scene involving shaving cream and tits. Instead, Partyknife is funny logically, in how it organizes its thoughts, surprising the first time and then impressive in a different way the second time. For all the wild shit crammed in here, all the beer and stoner metal and Lacan and art bros and quiet panic attacks, it gels and works machine-style. It makes me want to stare at shit with a blown-out smile on my face, which is good because that keeps happening when I read it." - Blake Butler

“Partyknife” exists as an amalgamation of unspecific bands relevant to that pre-famous, party-playing, hipster city scene. Yes, there is sex: “I ejaculate into a sock and give it to Chinese people to wash”. Yes, there is urinating: “Right now I have to pee. We are not in crisis mode yet, / but it infuses my every thought”. Yes, there is drinking: “I’m the Jesus of making out with girls drunk”; and drugs: “Adderall is doing such amazing work in me, / I have little time to figure it out”. And, of course, there are the writers: “There were three writers at a Christmas party / in Brooklyn, and they were talking about / another writer.”
It may be difficult for the reader to see through the appearances of sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll, but the background din of emotional toil that emanates from the poems’ more rewarding lines supplies the reader with an exceptional incentive: a remastered or remixed social fatalism that possesses hinted-at determination for self-preservation. Regarding the aftermath of love-lost at the heart of the volume, Magers writes, “Welling up in my hands are emotions, / and I awakened in her wake, / and I almost saw heaven then.” Conclusively determining whether the “heaven” is ironic or not broadens the poem’s reading by denying a clear reckoning of severity. And it’s something for which Magers should be thanked, for art shouldn’t be pandering, it should take risks, and only through close inspection should a work of art’s rewards be afforded those willing. The oscillating tonalities and dictions fashioned in Partyknife make for a beautifully complex work of emotion and relevance and take to task contemporary poetry’s uncertain direction. With so much weak irony and self-reference establishing poetry’s new foundations, Magers’s work demonstrates that there can be more if done so with a social intelligence and a deep understanding of poetry’s aesthetics.
There is an air to Dan Magers’s first collection that many will relate to but few will have experienced. The subject matter shouldn’t be read superficially, which would exclude the deep intelligence throughout the lyrics. New apogees of anxiety, excess, loss, and nihilism are pursued in Partyknife, conveyed artfully by the author for the sake of Art’s—and by proxy, society’s—vitality. What threads the superficial abstracts together is a very particular desire. By the laws of nature, society and the individual are in a constant struggle or desire against disorder; the universe dwindles to the endgame of entropy, and nothing can be done to stop it. In the twentieth-century, Beckett, Camus, Sartre, Artaud, et al explored what that endgame might look like when experienced from within its vacuum, a kind of cenophobia. Their art not only tackled it as subject matter but as parameters for aesthetics, regardless the attempts made to wiggle away from Aristotle’s edicts without falling into the nothingness of Dadaism. It can be done and done successfully as they proved, yet their successes also proved nihilism difficult to refashion in new generations, and society has yet to see the nihilism—in subject and aesthetics—exemplified by mid-twentieth century artists. The nihilism of Partyknife may be translated as a deepening angst relative to the new century for all intents, and in rupturing the gentle balance between order and disorder. The art of Partyknife exemplifies an aesthetically complete and humanly flawed persona lowered into the limbo where, “Everything I hated has become my life now. / By which I mean how happy I am.”
The persona in these poems owns its (his) existential illiteracy, which is to say Magers’s control over the tone and poetic line is consistent and dramatic, and a great imbalance persists not in the poetry itself, but as a byproduct within the persona’s temporary inability to reconcile his changing self with the pace of the life he’s living. Juxtaposing high lyricism with relative confessionalism, the poems feel at once free flowing but exceedingly crafted and tonally never fall by way of melodrama, unless it is a self-pitying of the persona’s choosing: “I don’t want to be remembered / except as what the worst person thought of me then.” Thus, the nature of tone in contemporary poetry, what Carl Phillips has deemed a “prevailing age of cool irony where we deny we even have woundable feelings”, as one may interpret in Magers’s poetry actually ascribes a hoodwinked seriousness about the milieu of drinking, mixtapes, and hooking-up. It should be of little surprise that certain subject matter rarely yields great works of art, and Magers’s tackling of what may be considered off-limits content—material too pedestrian or too “low-brow”, stuff that’s already been rendered by the likes of the New York School—belies such assumptions because he is able to create a stark motivation for the content’s exploration. These are not only objective correlatives; this is also reality.
Bidart—by way of Catallus (“I hate and I love”)—is the contemporary master of versifying contradiction in one single breath: “Wanting to cease to feel—; / …my romance with Orgasm” and continues overtly: “the NO which is YES, the YES which is NO.” Whether under the influence of Bidart and other contemporaries, or the shifting attention patterns of the writers, many poets now depend too much on the grammatical construct of abrupt contradiction, which comes across as lethargic associative logic or the non sequitor. Much of the overreliance or overuse is the product of poems’ lack of apparent crafting; the usage runs the risk of feeling slapdash or too insular. But like Bidart’s, the non sequitor in Magers’s poems is validated by the strength of his poetic line, which rummages through the diction to manifest highly rhythmic meters:

Checking every LES building’s door
to smuggle in for some rooftop drinking.
Rob, will you be my dad?
I’ve lived in New Orleans, I’ve KNOWN vampires.
If I leapt back, do you think I could fly?
New Year’s Eve fireworks…an uphill run along the campus,
the dorm way out above, the frozen lake below.

Hip-checking girls along 3rd Avenue,
and I laughed at your rape jokes until I got the hiccups;
asked by paramedics what my name is
in a bagel place, tiny as shit, busy as fuck.

The integrity of this poem’s cohesion is not only in the indirect rhythm but in how the poem’s context is established by the italicized lines, which act to emulate the shaky foundation of reality and perception. The image of fireworks, exploding in the sky as the observer runs, is at the poem’s heart; the moment in the poem at which the poem pivots and descends into memory and contingent thinking. Something about the experience of drunkenly walking a late and bustling New York City has evoked the past. Then, the writing erupts back into the sensual world, which is jarring and sudden and uncomfortably physical, much like the writing itself. Equilibrium is refused the narrator as well as the reader. Caesuras are manipulated to better offset a smooth reading. At these abrupt pauses, the poem sidesteps, only to sidestep again in subsequent clauses, both pushing and pulling the reader away from and into its world. In a nutshell, this tactic should always be the purpose of the non sequitor, and it’s employed masterfully over and over and in varying degrees in Partyknife. Earlier in the book, the persona is with a girl he’s “fucking” and she’s introducing him to her friends:

I have no idea what these kids are talking about.
Lacan and baby food.
Disequilibrium is manifested in the content of the characters’ speech. Magers creates the purpose for his aesthetic, and his aesthetic creates his purpose for his voice. Like the Cubists, the aesthetic principles must adhere to the changing perceptions of a fracturing world in some attempt to overlay order about the chaos. It all culminates in Partyknife in a moment of wayward Hegelian dialectic, the persona reaching for a defining meaning inherent in such schizophrenic unbalancing:
And when does I’m doing it for experience
become the experience itself?
I take all of it, and I really can’t have any of it.
From nothing to something to nothing is a soul.
And everything else is matter.

It takes intelligence and bravery to infuse such audacious lyrics with a bedridden existential anxiety and to have it mean something as a work of art, ultimately. The antipodal natures of lyricism and super-contemporary idioms (crass language, internet-speak, for example) may not mix well for every reader, but the authenticity of voice and emotional resonance hold the poems in Partyknife together inventively. They are in that Goldilocks Zone—not too poetic, not too coarse; not too coy, not too fearless. Rosanna Warren wrote of Melville, “perhaps it is in meeting one’s native sorrow that one ultimately wrests one’s own being into shape.” It’s the shaping into being that can be translated into art. To this notion should be added Hayden’s ars poetica: “All art is pain / suffered and outlived.” For however much the content may appear to detract from the overall arc of Magers’s ars poetica, the voice he has created acts as a perfect counterbalance to the anxious self-appraisals and literal screamings which cycle through the persona’s experiences on a minute-to-minute basis. The unnamed Everyman of Partyknife lives a life of few, if any, heroics, and he is only human, at this particular moment in this particular age. Magers’s work deftly embodies the time in which it is written and at the same time refracts the collective cynicism of a well-worn society aloof and indifferent to its own inability to question the complexities of ontology, and maybe even indifferent collectively to the great utility of art. Not only is Magers capable of questioning such complexities without moralizing or denouncing, he is capable of answering them with the “being-into-shape” of Partyknife, which is the endurance of the art and artist in the face of the transitory, of fragile history—personal or otherwise.

Lucid dreams and near-death experiences
become so serious. A night
I wanted changed will have forgotten
how to, leaving only that I wanted something else." - The Aviary
"I tried to sneak PARTYKNIFE into a movie I had it in my bag but it was too loud, they made me leave. I threw it down on the ground and yelled DOMINO MOTHERFUCKER and every kid there handed over their money, they were pissed. I stood outside your window holding up PARTYKNIFE like a boombox. I carved John Cusak out of soap; PARTYKNIFING the flakes into the bin. Before PARTYKNIFE velvet was just velvet, now it’s fucking CRUSHED. Some guy was looking at me outside the Porn Emporium so I PARTYKNIFED him right in the fucking eye. He took hours to die.
Reviews aren’t supposed to mimic their subject. There is something kind of shady and callow about attempting to perform a text. Like, it’s a script but I’m this here great fucking actor, you know? And that has to be appreciated.  PARYKNIFE’s a house but what I want is for you to be all “love what you did with the place.”  (I want you to purr and I want you do it in the 1960’s).  Acting out the text says the reviewer [this guy] wishes to borrow some dilute version of the verve and intelligence of the text itself.  As if for a really hot date, and the book’s just this jacket lying around. You won’t mind (right?).
I mean, you haven’t even read the book so if I swagger around with some dark wig and a mega-fuck-me vibe you might think it’s mine, you’d have no idea I just raided Dan Magers’ closet (“this is not very PARTYKNIFE” he whispered before I taped his mouth shut and threw him down the basement stairs).  Or you might have some idea but still, you’d think this Russel guy’s got some moxie, it’s at least a little bit him, this review is in fact kind of a thing itself, it’s a thing. As opposed to a mere layer of varnish on the thing itself. Maybe it’s normal to want that but that doesn’t  make it right. Reviews should tell us (I mean, to the best of their ability) what the book is. It’s not “is this a good book.” It’s “what is this book, what is its nature.”  Leaving the choice of good/bad up to the reader.  I don’t really have access to the good/bad part of your head, we haven’t met and even if we did you probably wouldn’t want me rummaging around in there [haven’t washed my hands sine 1983].
Ok, so what IS the book?  It’s really good, is the first thing.  If you’re looking for a simple yes/no, well, there it is.  I mean, even though I think it’s trashy to say so, there it is. YOU WANTED A RECOMMENDATION OK: buy this book.  If You Want A Hit.  Buy it. Buy the shit out of it.  You should give it to the coat check girl and you should fuck her. You should build a pillow fort out of this book. You should replace cocaine with this book. (Jk keep doing cocaine).  “Crying is just nature’s way of saying you’re wrong.”
PARTYKNIFE SPEAK “Awash in Tamaki’s beauty / I am the Burger King of crying right now.”   From the poem “Black dudes always know when you’re high.” An irreverent book, a punched ticked book, a book that is a narrative that has also expired (faceless party kids faceless days emptying their faces of all expression).  A poem about gifts (“A green number six Billiard ball, / perfectly halved”, “a toy robot”) concludes “a gift is not a gift unless you miss it.” It’s a sad book, then, a sad punk rock book.  It’s a tender book. It’s an imperfect bookthere are plenty of lines that fall flat (“we got addicted to snorting 9/11 dust / and listened to the feel good hits of Generation X”). Yet those failures those missesseem to contribute to the overall feel of the book, a certain grasping after the incomplete wanting to both have it and for it be something other than what it is, viz. incomplete, possibly mutilated.  There was a time. There was a place. That is the theme of the book. Written in broken neon.  “ALL BANDS ARE ABOUT HOW NEUROTIC WE ARE. / AND NOT HAVING FUN. / WHICH IS WHAT THE EIGHTIES WERE ABOUT.”   A loud book, a book at maximum volume. 
                                    If you’re doing it with that girl right now,
                                    then this message means jackshit, but probably
                                    you’re notprobably she’s like, “where’s the beer?”
                                    and you’re like, “I don’t got any,”
                                     but we’ve got the beer right here.
Endless parties but here’s the catchthey’re always ending.  “We partied during the war years, and his face melted off.”  Why not.  A loving address to a Coors 40 “....gone/ but your ghost lives on inside of me / infusing all my actions / with what you always dreamed for me to accomplish.”   But like, don’t confuse this with Less Than Zero style nihilismthere’s always a sneaky sense of kung-fu cool pervading. Sad maybe but this is sad with style (“gleeful haywire” v. Berryman).  “The punk kid in the punk house laughs at the paint he wipes on my new shirt, / but I am an insane god.”  It’s a surprising book, endlessly inventive and strange, like a puppet show or a graphic novel, something small, something vast. 
You may have noticed btw that I am failing in my stated intentions to say WHAT this book is.  I’m just slapping adjectives onto it like I’m the king of slapping Lisa Frank stickers on someone’s arm then punching 'em kind of hard. And I am that.  This isn’t because I want to fail. It’s just, I can’t convey this book.  It’s elusive. What is the heart of it?  “Occasionally the center of attention / brings into focus a girl who loves erasing.”   No?  “Kneeling at the altar of the merely beautiful.”  NO????  “”Exclamation points, no matter how many, / cannot say what all caps articulates from my soul.”  “Only some of this will affect you,” Magers tells us.   But I was affected by all of it.  OK.  “Now My Band Will Fuck You.”  
You must so fucking sick of me at this point (I started out there but you’re there now, what up?).  But this is the book that spurs you to speak as it.  This Is The book.   You didn’t know what you wanted to be and now you do.  “Sexy like a Muppet, / guzzling Diet Cokes like I was Bill Clinton.”  Glitter stuck in our eyes like we only look at fancy shit. I threw a PARTYKNIFE in a walk-in freezer, even the confetti hurt.  THESE AND OTHER ACTIVITIES theseandvariousenvies.  Try and recall the last book you wanted to take up as a lifestyle.  Try and recall in particular, the last book of poetry that you wanted to become. It made me feel good. When’s the last time poetry made you feel good? Not distant and admiring, not the literary equivalent of the Met. When was the last time you read a book of poetry that hit you cinema hard? That left you pointing frantically at the screen, a la Velvet Goldmine, saying that’s me.
Look, it’s not the most important book I’ve read in the last five years. Maybe not even the most talented. But it’s the one that gave me the most pleasure, without guilt or complication.  I’d forgotten that poetry could do that. That it could provide pure pleasure. We’ve ceded that territory, wrongly, to the escapism of fiction.  Perhaps I haven’t engaged with the ideas here, the content beneath the apparent: but my relationship to this book is teen dream, first love, never over it, I am the fucking genie of it. I have tried to be true to that. And perhaps in my response you’ll be able to understand what could cause such a response, perhaps you can negative space this, based upon my stabs at meaning making and: make it whole. 
                        This feels so good. Slap me if I fall asleep,
                        She says you’ve been sleeping this whole time.
                        Like a teenager again.
                        Dust motes exploding off her hair.
                      And I woke up in a wheelchair." - Russel Swensen

"Partyknife, the debut book of poems by Dan Magers published on June 5, has drawn attention not only from the usual lit mag crowd, but also from places far rarer for poetry collections, such as Vice Magazine and a blurb from Sonic Youth maestro and indie tastemaker Thurston Moore, who declared: “Writing poems like these is just as good as starting a band.” Magers is co-founder and co-editor of Sink Review, an online poetry journal, and founder and editor of Immaculate Disciples Press, a handmade chapbook press focused on poetry and visual arts collaborations. He grew up in Kansas City, MO and now lives in Brooklyn. Gina Myers first met him at The New School, where they both were pursuing degrees in creative writing. They recently caught up over e-mail to discuss Partyknife, his contradictory feelings about coolness, the awesomeness of T-Rex, and how he really feels about Billy Collins.
Partyknife appears to be a series of poems written from the perspective of a single persona. How would you describe the protagonist of the book, and where would you say you came up with him?
- The poems that eventually became Partyknife started happening in September 2009 on an Amtrak train. I had my laptop and was culling through hundreds of pages of Microsoft Word documents that I call “sketchbooks” (which is where I had been drafting poems or writing out notes and ideas over the course of five years). I started pulling out my favorite lines and quotes of failed poems or just random notes and lines that seemed really awesome to me and started collaging them together into poems that were about the size of sonnets (but not sonnets). I realized that the lines I was pulling were less “poemy,” more like “everyday language”– funny/sad/angry lines and ideas I had written down at work or things overheard or spoken to me by friends.
I don’t think I was very conscious of creating a persona for a long time, probably until after the book was accepted for publication by Birds, LLC and I started getting edits back. I felt like I was just writing poems using a “lyric ‘I’” that was and wasn’t about me. Since I was collaging together new lines with lines that were five years old, it did not feel like I was writing about myself, even when writing about things I had really done or said. I was conscious of how closely both poetry readers and non-poetry readers alike associate a lyric “I” with the author, and I played with that sometimes. Frederick Seidel’s poetry does this, and I was reading a lot of him several years ago though I might have exhausted whatever it was that inspired me in his writing, because I haven’t really returned to his work.
One of the first responses about the book after it published was from a friend of a friend, whom I’ve never met, and who does not read poetry. After she flipped through my book and read a poem, she remarked to my friend, “It would be interesting to know what the author’s relationship is to ‘coolness’.” This really struck me, since if I was asked, I don’t think I would be able to account for my feelings about coolness in a satisfying way. I think my contradictory feelings about coolness acted very much as an organizing force in creating the poems.
Can you explain your “contradictory feelings about coolness”?
- I think all I mean is that the book is very much infused with my experience living in Brooklyn during my 20s. You are constantly surrounded by coolness where I live, surrounded by people who are trying to be cool, but are also disparaging coolness. I do this, and I am totally uncool. One also realizes that these concerns are profoundly unimportant, and yet they can take over how you see the world. This might be related to the sometimes detached or aloof tone of parts of the book that some readers have noticed.
I actually have not really thought about this idea of coolness until after the book came out. I don’t think through why I’m writing what I’m writing. So while it is at once probably a generating force of the book, talking about it seems very new to me and probably needs to be developed more.
When I first read Partyknife, I felt a little like I was in on it, having lived in Brooklyn and witnessed that hipster party nightlife scene in my 20s too, but I feel like it captures something people anywhere can grasp or identify with. Through either the writing or editorial processes, did you give much thought to who your ideal audience would be?
One of the most gratifying things that happened when the book came out was how many people would contact me, both writers and non-writers, and say that reading the book made them want to write poetry, or write something. I’m really excited the book inspires that kind of response in people. When I say the book is about coolness, I don’t think that means it’s exclusive. I’ve mentioned coolness, but the book is also about unrequited love and coming to an understanding that your dreams will not come true. It’s those things that everybody relates to.
Besides Frederick Seidel, what other writers or artists influenced Partyknife or you in general?
- There are really too many to name. I really love Denis Johnson’s short story collection Jesus’s Son. Whereas Seidel I’ve not picked up in a few years, I am regularly reading through the Johnson book, and even though it’s such a short book, the writing in it is a constant source of inspiration. For a few years after I first moved to New York in 2003, I probably thought about John Ashbery’s poetry on a daily basis. Three Poems is my favorite. Though now I get a sense that I’m constantly trying to write away from him, which probably reflects the impact he’s had on my reading and writing. When I look back at the book specifically, I notice influences by John Berryman and Ted Berrigan, but these didn’t really register when I was writing.
One important non-writing influence is my childhood friend Matt Bollinger’s visual art. With regards to the book, I especially think to Matt’s work that appeared in his first New York City show:. I think the images depicting a band and implying a love triangle really resonated with me, and I ran with them in my own direction.
I also deeply love listening to music, which is one of my favorite things. The speaker in the poems is a struggling-to-failed musician, and I think it has surprised a couple people to learn that I do not play or write music. I’ve only wanted to be a writer. But I listen to music everyday.
With the chapbook press you edit, Immaculate Disciples Press, there is a focus on collaboration between writers and artists. What do you find interesting about that collaboration/why is it important to you?
- I’m interested in collaboration between writers and artists in particular because, just in a practical sense, a collaborator usually has skills, abilities, or experiences that I don’t have. If both of us are using our own abilities on a project, the sum will be greater than the parts. We do not publish a lot – usually one or two chapbooks per year. My partner in Immaculate Disciples is Matt – and since we’ve known each other so long and have a good idea of each other’s aesthetic interests and trust each other’s judgements, we’ve published several successful chapbooks. Lately Steven Karl, my co-editor at Sink Review, has come on as guest editor to choose chapbook projects and produce them. We also get help from other artist friends or people who want to hang out and help collate printed pages or bind the chapbooks together. All this collaboration across genres also opens new perspectives in what is possible in writing.
How does being an editor affect your writing? I know through conversations we’ve had outside of this interview that you credit Sam Starkweather and the other editors at Birds, LLC with really helping shape the book. Has either that experience or your work at Sink Review shaped how you approach your own writing or the writing of others?
- I think that being an editor of an online literary magazine has shaped my reading more than my writing, though of course those things are intertwined. Running an online poetry journal and writing and editing poetry book reviews (things I also do for Sink) are really good ways to become familiar with the many different facets of contemporary poetry. It is also cool to be able to have a platform to feature poetry you are excited about or book reviews of books that deserve more attention. The poets we publish generally have 0-2 books out, and so it is also gratifying to get to follow talented poets who we’ve helped to introduce to an audience.
What music have you been listening to lately?
- I don’t listen to as much new music as I used to, something I always get mildly insecure about. One album I’ve been listening to over and over lately is T-Rex’s The Slider. I will play the album on my commute to work, and then again on the way home. Then sometimes again at home. The album is not really that hard or that heavy, but it really rocks and is sexy as hell. I was playing it while hanging out with a friend, who remarked that I seem to most like the slow jams on the album – “Mystic Lady,” “Spaceball Ricochet,” “Ballrooms of Mars.” Also “Metal Guru” is like one of the best opening songs of any album.
Are you currently working on any new projects or have upcoming readings or publications?
- Since I spent so long writing Partyknife, I’m pretty content to not get immediately involved in new writing projects, and to rather just write to teach myself new ways of making poems without thinking much about publishing them. My day job is in book publishing, so I’m familiar with how author-driven book promotion is. So right now I think my main focus is on getting the word out about Partyknife. I feel like that will be my focus for the rest of the year. Probably the best way to keep track of me is to follow me on twitter or friend me on Facebook.
Do you have any words of advice regarding author-driven promotion?
- By the time you get a finished copy of your book, you likely will have already spent months, if not years, thinking about it, and it feels like a great time to collapse at the finish line. However, once you get the book, it almost feels to me like a halfway point. No one is going to know more about your book than you, and no one will be more excited about your book than you, which is why it’s important for an author to be front and center. For writers or anyone really, this can feel awkward, having to not only talk about your work (and yourself), but to do so in a way that makes people want to seek out and pay money for your book. It takes a lot of confidence and energy, and will take time away from writing or other things you want to do.
My first chapbook was self-published, so I think it’s something I’ve known for a long time and am comfortable with. But it’s not much different in major publishing houses – they might have more resources at hand (maybe), but a big publishing house with thousands of authors will expect new authors to already have a sense of their audience and to then market to them endlessly.
I’m making it sound laborious, but it really is one of the most gratifying things in the world to have someone you don’t know come up to you at a reading or email you later on and tell you how much your work affected them. I mean, I think that’s why a lot of people become writers. If you can just focus on making these kinds of connections on this scale, you will be much more productive than fretting about how you will sell hundreds of copies of books to people you’ve never met.
Can you tell me how you really feel about Billy Collins?
Ha, poor Billy Collins. I don’t hate him. He can get thousands of dollars to spend an hour reading poetry to a room of Bank of America executives, but I don’t hate him.
I guess it can seem odd for me to talk about how the book is not meant to exclude an audience beyond poets, and then have a book trailer burning a copy of a book by the one poet non-poets might know. Still, we were thinking of what book would serve as the best prop for our book trailer, and when I saw both the cover and title, my first thought was, “yeah let’s set this on fire.” As Jim Behrle said, “If you wrote a book called The Trouble with Poetry, you might be the trouble with poetry.” - Interview by Gina Myers

Three Poems from Partyknife


The idea of smoking pot to regulate my life is unraveling,
so I need to make a necessary improvement.

I am a nationally-known public speaker.

Sexy like a Muppet,
guzzling Diet Cokes like I was Bill Clinton,

my blankness is the blankness of Reagan.

Then I became hungry like a fat person.

In preparation for Fucktime,
I threw my bedding in the dryer
that was defective and everything burned.

My friend Rob said it smelled like skin.
You know what it was?

It was the beginning of tomorrow.

And today is all your life will ever be.

Mercy Fuck

I’ve seen everything that’s funny on the internet.
Rockstar of masturbation and hot dog violence.

I serve everything I get.
What comes in is entered out of pity.

Oh my god, it’s happening!

Thinking about the history of death metal,
I realized I know nothing about death metal
and had a panic attack.

I tried to mouth off to some people,
and they just took it.

What a wimpy Halloween.


Even though I’m hanging out with white people,
it’s turning out pretty well.

Why would I pee on the bath mat? The toilet is right there.

I tried to start a rumor that Cecilia’s career would stall
because she was epileptic, and when she would perform in discos,
she will have seizures.

It’s as if the wind just dies away,
but this is not the masochistic work of man. It is nature within man.

Eventually she transforms into a tree and it is beautiful.

It heals.
That’s the power of skin.

And when I die, I’ll just be dead.

"There’s a new chapbook online at H_NGM_N — Dan Magers’s White-Collar Worker: I Am a Destiny. This one is definitely worth a longer look (and at free, it’s way underpriced). Magers is paying attention to life and giving us not the best sentences to describe it, but the one-liners that best highlight everything else (like, “Someone is having a lot of trouble/in the bathroom.” or “I’m bleeding from the nose. It’s not broken.”) Even if you aren’t — as Magers seems to be — paying attention to arty music and its culture (“The amps are the band. The dudes are the roadies.”) and ramming around with collegiate drunkards (“I have no idea what these kids are talking about./Lacan and baby food.”) you’ll see there’s lots to laugh at and more to find marvelous. I read it quickly and found my reading to be informed by Magers’s early reflection:
Meaning contains a glancing similarity
to what is happening to me." - Adam Robinson

Oleg Woolf - Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz, a vivid, surreal evocation of a liminal world. The characters follow the trajectories of elementary particles, disappearing in one dimension only to reappear in another.”

Oleg Woolf, Bessarabian Stamps: Stories , Trans. by Boris Dralyuk, Phoneme Media, 2015. Reminiscent of Bruno Schulz’s Street of Crocod...