Normally Special by xTx, Tiny Hardcore Press (2011). 96 pages: http://www.tinyhardcorepress.com/ 96 pages, paperback, $9.99
Normally it takes something special to get me excited when it comes to new literature. xTx’s debut collection, Normally Special, is one of those rare pieces of work. Almost all of the twenty-one collected stories have never been published before. The collection, released by the new outfit Tiny Hardcore Press (headed by HTML Giant contributor and PANK co-editor Roxane Gay), is a kick to the groin and a fist to the gut all in one. This 96-page book packs quite a punch and offers the reader a glimpse inside the genius of one of the truly talented writers out today.
The only problem is that I don’t know the author’s real name. If I did I’d write to him/her and congratulate them for restoring my faith in modern literature as well as for inspiring me to become a better writer myself. This is one of those works that not only excites every nerdy bone in your body, because its wordplay and placement of phrases are top notch, but it actually makes you jealous that you weren’t able to produce something of this caliber.
My favorite story is “A Brief History of Masturbation.” Its pure honesty and dry wit take this taboo subject and flash a large spotlight on it as if xTx were manning a prison guard tower. But all of the stories in this collection are equally equipped with gut-wrenching honest observations or beautifully thought-out details that give the reader a front row seat to the character’s lives.
“Marci is Going to Shoot Up Meth With Her Friend” is another great story. At its core is a longing for the reciprocation of love. Unlike many love stories this one doesn’t seem to get bogged down in the trivial bullshit heavy fantasies of what love is and should be. Instead, the story moves forward with brutal speed that requires the reader to follow along or risk being left behind.
I now know my words won’t make you love me.
But I will keep trying because every wall in the world is waiting for the impact of my head.
The blood is still no consolation. Can you believe that?
I could go through each story and run through my favorite lines, but then you’d be left reading a 96-page review.
The language used throughout the book is varied yet consistent. xTx’s words are brutal yet beautiful in the way they flow seamlessly with one another. If I had to make a comparison I would immediately look to another contemporary author, the amazingly talented Blake Butler, author of Scorch Atlas. xTx is unique in that the stories being told are done so with a refreshing sense of honesty and not even a morsel of self-doubt. What makes this collection great is the author’s controlled craziness. In that I mean no matter how many emotions are being conveyed or how crazy a character may seem, xTx is always in control, always striving for something greater; namely a story that conveys what it means to be human in today’s society.
My only complaint with this collection is that some of the stories feel as though they were abruptly cut short. As much as the brevity of the pieces added to its immediacy and instantaneous impact, I would’ve liked to see some of them fleshed out a bit longer to add some more emotional layering, thus giving the reader more complex characters.
My advice: go and get the book for yourself and see what all the fuss is about. Normally Special is just that–a special rendering of normal events. A deceptively simple juxtaposition, because it’s clear that this collection was meant for those willing to abandon their preconceived notions of storytelling. So go in with an open mind, and you’ll surely be thankful that you did.—Patrick Trotti