Friday, December 30, 2011

First Read On E-Reader: "Person" by Sam Pink

All right, before you judge me for having a kindle fire manufactured by the evil corporation, you should know that I'm very happy with its performance and that that should somehow make up for the terrible things does to competition in the arena of the free market.

Don't be evil and try your best not to be complicit. I will try harder.

No more questions!


(Brief parenthetical aside: I still like and plan to purchase paper books, often from used bookstores. This is what I tell myself and I know it to be true! Besides it's too hard for me to highlight passages and annotate margins on the e-reader. Paper books beat 'em where that's concerned.) 


I read "Person" by Sam Pink. It's an unusual tale that reminds me somewhat of Daniil Kharms' disjointedness. Absurdity coupled with vague sense of the tragedy inherent in things being what they are and not necessarily logical. It's still funny, yes, but there's melancholy, too. Nobody can avoid the melancholy. You'd better learn how to cope with melancholy. It's a part of this. Maybe that's not such a bad thing, either.

A line I can imagine being in "Person" would go something like, "I met a student who was pre-med. He looked like he would be my doctor someday. He would always be the same way, and I might be a little bit different."

Here's another handful of lines actually from the novel and not just put upon it:

There's an advertisement for junior college along the inside of the train.
The ad features a smiling man holding books.
He looks nice.
One day I will figure out which stop the junior college is at and then I will go there and meet this man and we will help each other through life.  

Pink seems concerned with the various superficiality of everyday life, and more to the point, the ephemerality that defines the superficial. The people you meet on the street aren't always going to be there. In fact, they'll be a part of your life far less time than the people you know, the difference between a year and a millennium. Those fleeting, superficial interactions tend to be the real and true microcosm of life and living. They constitute the people you knew in high school, say, and now only know on Facebook, if you know them at all. If you ever knew them at all.

Also, everything in the novel is February. A nice and cold month devoid of feeling. January might've also worked were it not too closely removed from Christmas and obviously New Year's (despite familial issues, unless something very negative happened to you at this time of year it's generally pretty positive, energy wise). Nobody cares about Valentine's Day. It's either too commercial or too lonely or both. Those things make it a sad holiday foisted on the public, and accordingly, it tends to be an afterthought -- even to those who enjoy it. It does not come up in "Person," which whether intentional or not, I agree with.

There's one epitomizing moment in which the unnamed narrator is confronted by his overly extroverted landlord, a landlord who wants all the building's tenants to be like family, and the landlord shows off a Halloween decoration she got at a discount because of its being so completely out of season. It does the thing it's supposed to do, this werewolf statue thing, apparently wiggling its arms staccato-like. More interestingly, the unnamed narrator does what he's supposed to, which is feign a kind of interest. He is a person enough to understand this nuance of human interaction.

There's also the sense of David Markson I felt in Pink's novel. In particular "Wittgenstein's Mistress" is very much felt. Take the plot of "Wittgenstein's Mistress" and put it in a world populated by other people, with a male narrator, and you have a nice, different sort of post-apocalyptic narrative. This is what I think Sam Pink fairly deftly achieves. The language is often terse and never overly florid, but it has this way of expressing a great deal. It makes you think and feel in a different way, a way that's purposely uncomfortable but, as you move through the narrative, you begin to find a kind of comfort, call it making do, with the lifestyle of the narrator, his nomadic existence. It's troubling but pleasing. It doesn't seem so bad. It seems like you don't always have complete control over your own fate, but you have some control over it, and with that you make what you will.

It's a fun read in the way that coming to terms with yourself and yourself in the grand scheme of things can be fun, when looked at from a certain kind of angle. 


  1. Really insightful description of the book. I'm a big fan of Pink. Thanks for pointing me to Kharms, I just ordered Incidences

  2. Happy to put you on to Kharms, Nathan! I know I'm a fanboy / groupie when it comes to Kharms but it's really difficult for me to imagine anyone not liking him, or at least not seeing his merit / underrated place in literary history / how ahead of his time he was. Let me know what you think, though.