Sunday, June 20, 2010
Repetition Patterns, a review
Maybe it's because I came of age in the 80's and the imagery of Repetition Patterns is right there in full-color for me, maybe it's because I'm also a young father with a son who teaches me more about real living in any given ten minutes than I learned in the entirety of my life up to his arrival, maybe it's just because Ben Tanzer is a hell of a nice guy, but for me, this book was one of the best things I've read so far this year.
To start with, I will admit that I read relatively few books like this. I am a writer myself and my work is largely speculative and somewhat futuristic so I read a LOT of speculative fiction and this leaves me with little enough time to read other mainstream or genre fiction. I take recommendations though, from people I trust, and I do try to read the work of my contemporaries in the Chicago literary scene because they're great people and they're generally producing interesting, relevant work.
That said, I found myself making a list as I was reading Repetition Patterns of all of the people I wanted to put it into the hands of to read. Happily, and I'll get to this in a minute, the distribution method of this book is very conducive to word-of-mouth. Anyway, for every father I know of young children, and every couple I know who grew up when I did and has seen the world change the way Tanzer and I have, I thought "this person really needs to read this book." Technically, it's like buscuits and gravy; understated, rich, and satisfying. The metaphorical subtext is present enough to color the whole thing beautifully the way some great indie films manage to do. You read it and you can't exactly put your finger on it, but you need little encouragement to devour it. Writing about my generation, the generation neither firmly Gen X nor Millenials but rather something more like "Garbage Pail Kids" where our first movie at the movie theater wasn't Star Wars but rather E.T. or The Return of the Jedi, is nothing new, but I've rarely seen it done this well, and usually when it was it was in the form of a screenplay.
When contemplating the skill needed to write something meaningful about this generation, you have to wonder if all of the cliches don't just instantly bog down the story before it can get off the ground. Culturally, our generation is such a mishmash of corporate marketing and kitsch mixed with genuine emotion and weird moments of spontaneous "things that happened", that making sense of it in any cohesive way is something that would require confidence on the order of Chuck Norris at a kindergarten introductory karate class.
Repetition Patterns has a palpable flavor of metaphor in it, but never does this seem heavy-handed or trite, and Tanzer's recognizeable characters shine through it vividly. I say "recognizeable" because there's more than a hint of northern New York in the book as well, which being from there I particularly appreciated. Another thing I loved about the book that others have mentioned is the small-town flavor of it. Tanzer does a terrific job of making the book very readable even if one has little or no experience with small towns, but if you do, you'll find yourself thinking about the one in your own personal past almost immediately. Inclusion of nostalgic memories + small town flavor = instant, bittersweet literary homesickness. There are living people in this book, which is probably the highest thing that I can think to say of a piece of contemporary fiction. Regardless, Repetition Patterns would have been a great piece of fiction on its own even had it not been for the terrific way it was produced and released.
I should clarify that I read the ebook version of this story, which I bought at CCLaP's main page and paid $5.00 for. This in itself bears mention because I normally hate reading ebooks and though I have read a few and I tolerate them because of their free-ness, this is the first one I've ever paid for. I couldn't have picked a better first electronic purchase. Tanzer and CCLaP Editor Jason Pettus seem to have found a combination that not only got past my dislike of the medium, but made me feel very willing to plunk down some cash in the future for more of the same if produced similarly. Most of the time I feel like publishers tack on a "digital" version of their books as an afterthought, but Repetition Patterns was the first one I've seen that was honed to ebook perfection with the medium directly in mind.The book is slim at 40-ish digital full-sized PDF pages, but my sense of size was quickly lost when reading it on the Stanza iPhone player and rendered completely irrelevant once I realized that at this length it was MEANT to be comfortably read as an ebook. It was like getting a nod from some considerate and understanding architect who, knowing that your butt was going to be in them, made the benches in his modernistic museum convex instead of hard and flat. Comfortable and inviting is a big shift for me when it comes to digitally-presented literature, so I gave the book a lot of credit for that, too.
Read it, and don't be afraid to buy it instead of just getting it for free, it's 100% worth it. The only thing about Repetition Patterns I found myself still wanting was a place for it on my bookshelf alongside my other favorites, but hey, it's the 21st century right? Maybe my new bookshelf will be a virtual one or something.
Available at http://www.cclapcenter.com/patterns
Posted by Mark R. Brand at 12:52 PM