When Jen Michalski asked me to review Joseph Young’s EASTER RABBIT I jumped at the opportunity as I have been a huge fan of Joe’s writing since I “met” him at the Zoetrope Studios many years ago. I hadn’t read the book yet, and was eager to.
Joe sent me a copy and I didn’t read it right away. I felt equal parts excitement and dread. I don’t know what the dread was about. Or maybe I do. It’s the same way I felt when I received Kim Chinquee’s book OH BABY. I knew what was inside the book was, well, genius. And I mean that sincerely. There is something in both Kim and Joe’s writing that I recognize as inimitable, emerging from a singular mind and personality and aesthetic. It’s intimidating and thrilling at the same time.
Finally, I overcame my trepidation and opened the book. Other reviews have mentioned how the book is impossible to read quickly. I think Adam Robinson even issued a challenge, with reward, to anyone who could honestly claim to have read the book in one sitting. I am here to tell you that I couldn’t do it. You read these extremely short pieces slowly. It is like looking at a painting. How Joe does this with a scant amount of words on a page I don’t know, but he does.
Reading through you start to absorb the writer’s rhythms and preferred structures. One of Joe’s preferred sentence structures appears to be:
1. the noun of the noun
2. the adjective noun of the noun
3. the noun of the adjective noun
It’s just something that works on your subconscious after awhile, never boring, but you sink into his particular language and I think the language is what holds these each very different pieces together and makes this a true collection. The “theme” is the extraordinary language.
“the graze of her breath”
“the ozone of her disgust”
“the jaws of the coffee cups”
“the bandaged feet of birth”
“the humid cloud of words”
Jesus. Those are beautiful. I envy this language. And I am happy to read things like “his vacation pants” because it’s lovely and specific and perfect and unexpected.
The pieces are often sprinkled with somewhat inscrutable dialogue between a a man and a woman. Some of this I loved and some not, but I was always taken with the freshness of how Joe handles the give and take. It’s always larger, somehow, than moment or scene.
Another thing I noticed running through the language is the unexpected word that is often very close to the expected word, throwing the reader off in the best way.
“She lay gaping on the bathroom floor.” (following a snake bite)…where the expected word is “gasping” and “more summer in her mouth that he could have known in a wild of work.” …there what was I expecting? Maybe a “world” of work. But I like, no love, the way this kind of writing makes me lean in close, full of wonder.
This is a beautiful collection. These are not stories in the traditional sense and I can’t really compare this writing to any other, which is a very good thing. I feel both smarter and dumber reading Joseph Young’s work, but ultimately I feel…nourished. Because he brings to writing what I go to writing for and that is the beauty and depth of a true artist. It makes me happy, the same way that reading very Competent, Clean, Polished, Rule-Following prose often irritates me. I’m mad at the writer who is happy to follow the rubric and get a good grade. I hated those kids who did that in school too. But I digress.
There was a “Write Like Joseph Young” contest that Ellen Parker, editor of FRiGG judged. I thought it was an interesting challenge. I think it’s a compliment that there would even such a contest because it means that this writing is so original and particular, that it stands out so much from the norm that it begs imitation.
That is all I have to say. Read this book. Read it slowly. Let the language and the images spill over you. Wear your vacation pants.–Kathy Fish