Welcome to March, aka Small Press Month. Not that you would know -- there is not a lot of publicity or discussion surrounding the event. From the surface-level research I've done, Small Press Month boils down to a website that offers free posters and encourages people to hold their own Small Press Month events. It's also populated with inspirational quotes, like this one from Kay Ryan: "Small presses take chances. Chances are at the heart of all literature we later know as great." This is your Poet Laureate, people. Listen up. You live in a city with venues that celebrate Small Press Month, so make the most of it.
Of course, one possible outcome of this wild thing known as chance-taking is a crappy book. And there are plenty out there. Luckily, James Greer's newest release, The Failure, published by Akashic Books, is not one of these. The Failure represents all things good about the possibilities of small press publishing: an over-the-top and enjoyable plot with witty writing that sustains its cleverness without becoming one-dimensional. It is just offbeat enough that it's hard to imagine the book getting a chance from a major publishing house.
The Failure's protagonist is Guy Forget (Ghee For-zhay). Seen as an underachiever by his family and an ambitious underachiever by his friends, Guy is "the failure" of The Failure. Then again, so is (arguably) everyone and everything else. The Failure revolves around Guy's plot to obtain $50,000, which he needs to fund a demo-version of a subliminal Internet advertising application called Pandemonium:
"So that's, like, more or less how it works.
How what works? asked one of the investors.
Pandemonium. I just demonstrated it.
What do you mean?
When you clicked on that website, you got advertised to. Or however you want to say it.
I didn't see anything, said one of the investors.
Central to Guy's plan is an event subsequently known only as the Korean Check-Cashing Fiasco -- so central, in fact, that every chapter of the novel is titled based on its chronological relationship to said event. Don't imagine a countdown, however. The plot structure defies linearity. And, just in case you aren't already clear that nothing turns out as planned, note again the use of the words "failure" and "fiasco." I will also tell you up front that Greer opens the novel by telling us that Guy ends up in a coma, missing a legal inheritance of $50,000 by a matter of a hours.
Sucking a reader into your narrative by revealing its end before you've explained its beginning is a time-honored tradition, and even without the humor of Greer's writing, the technique might have worked on me. But I have to say that the pleasure of encountering phrases like "emotional humidity" or sentences such as "Damien Hirst does not travel light, entouragely speaking," elevated The Failure beyond what its plot could have achieved alone. "I am more complex than I am," says Guy's friend Billy in response to the comment that he's trying to make himself more complex than he is. Of course.
James Greer will be reading at City Lights Books on March 16, 2010, along with Mark Gluth and Dennis Cooper, who edits the Little House on the Bowery arm of Akashic Books and is responsible for bringing forth The Failure.