thechapbookreview

How the Broken Lead the Blind

How the Broken Lead the Blind
Chapbook by Matt Bell
Willows Wept Press, 2009
55 pages
Sold out

Reviewed by Sean Lovelace

I read this chapbook from Willows Wept Press twice. I generally don’t read things twice. I don’t watch movies twice (except Woody Allen films [early ones] and Caddyshack—I watch them over and over). I know a lot of humans post about how they read books two, three, fourteen times a day, etc., in between screenings of black and white Swedish indie films (gulls and waves crashing) and writing their memoir(s), and DJing off their Ipod, but not me.

I got disc golf practice.

[I am hungry now. What should I eat?]

A mortgage (implies a house).

Why does the kitchen drain guffaw and sputter? Why does one bathroom smell like mottled banana, and the other like a waterfall? [Why can’t I eat that pink cotton candy that covers my attic?] Does anyone know how to make a flower live? I’m close to done with flowers. I’d rather landscape my mind with Dos Equis. My throat hurts like an economy. And: How do I use my programmable thermostat? It looks all neon and modern, but just blinks at me green, like E.T., or some bored cashier at a health food store.

A crushing existential crisis on my hands. Lots of night-thoughts. Dogs howling, or is that a siren? Etc.

So.

How the Broken Lead the Blind is obviously a drug.

No. You can not trade me a Cornish hen for that cough syrup. Get a hobby (I suggest bocce, or parkour.)

The title glitters and pulls like “a present wrapped in purple and gold.” (p. 35) I keep teaching my fiction students about titles and here is Matt Bell summarizing all I teach. Make your title a drug, people. Make it grab me by the subtropical Wendy, the rumbling Atlanta. Make it a metaphor umbrella, eclipsed and reddening. I went to the mailbox slightly drunk and pulled an envelope out of the mailbox and ripped open the envelope and Matt’s chapbook appeared. It bloomed there.

On the cover (by Christy Call) were two fucked up cranes. One of them looked like it stuck its neck into an episode of Will It Blend? Here is the one where they blend an Iphone.

I read the title of Matt Bell’s book and thought:

1.) This reminds me of a quote, I think Auden, wherein the evil of the world are motivated, speak out, actually act—as opposed to the peaceful, the good hearts, who keep quite, and therefore useless, in the big picture. Dictators as great speech-makers. Jim Jones. That idea. Or maybe that no one really feels or speaks with real conviction anymore. When is the last time you heard a speech with real conviction? Or gave one?

2.) Who are the blind? A Flannery O’ Connor (To the hard of hearing you shout, to the almost-blind you draw large and starling figures.)  feel to the blind. Are we, as readers, the blind? Will our eyes be opened?

3.) This is the second time a Matt Bell story made its way into my skull and classroom. I have preached and preached for years to my students to GET-A-JOB! That’s the best advice for a writer. Get past the reality of the situation, behind the counter/the swinging door, into the kitchen, the stock room, the office, where all the insanity takes places. Get a job. Grab material and 34 bread sticks. Bring a notebook, or a memory cell.

An aside: Do all chefs smoke weed? I have worked in 3 restaurants and all the chefs smoked weed. Anyway.

[I wonder what is in my fridge. It is 11:30 and I am hungry. Do I have hot sauce?]

Matt wrote this gem about work, about PLACE: Alex Trebek Never Eats Fried Chicken.

*

This book can levitate.

How the Broken Lead the Blind has blurbs (see all here) the way War and Peace has characters (600 of them, if you are counting).

Matt must have many friends. Or at least compromising photos of many people. Also the writing is good, so that helps.

(If I gave a blurb I would have mentioned detachment. Characters seem to float. They want to communicate more fully, but cannot. Example (pubbed in Night Train). Very Chekhov in this way. I would have also used the word fuck in my blurb. I would just want to see if the word fuck could make it into the blurb, as genre question. Also I think I would have mentioned the obvious: this fucking book can levitate.)

William Walsh says, “Matt Bell is a maker of fine fictions.”

I like that: Maker. Fine Fictions. A fiction being fine as whole, complete, every word in its place, every sentence, to create a sensibility in the reader, to move me place to place, to hinge the text open, to work. Flash fiction as art, as science, as intricate machine.

When I say art of flash fiction I mean just this, a done thing. As in the right words. As in recipe—one more grain of salt, too much, one less, too bland. I think some of these flashes out-delect the others, out-born them–as if arrived formed and complete (all connotations), that word.

Example:

Surely, “How the Broken Lead the Blind until They Both Become Something Else Entirely” (Jesus, what a title!) is the best work in the chapbook. It flows, it blooms, runs forward like the endearing and rather remarkable blind woman, her seeing-eye dog, both on “new found running legs,” both “accidental artists” in their running free, acceleration and verve, embrace of possibility, of crash, of actual free-will-ness—finally.

Everything about this story is surprising, yet inevitable. A well-wrought thing, this art. That’s what I mean.

A close second in pure skill and quality is “Once She’d Been a Brunette.” Again, the words lead to their own world, create it, and the ending line (“She touches his hair with both hands and for just one moment she swears she can feel it flourishing, can feel the new cells pushing through the skin, like a springtime she’ll never see.”) is a fine example of epiphany (not an attempt, but the actual thing: the character brought to a state of enlightenment, a realization of significance).

Well done, Mr. Bell.

*

I am always one with an eye and admiration for structure, especially the organic form, the forms and functions of the world. Martone selects a travel guide. Mcphee uses a Monopoly board. Lorrie Moore an entire genre of pop culture writing as scaffolding for her fiction. Etc.

Matt does several interesting structural things here. “Ten Scenes from a Movie Called Mercy” uses the language of film, footage and jumpcuts and candlelight and tracking shot and wardrobe and high-angle somethings and symbolic use of music and/or guilt and frames-per-second and cellulose nitrate as highly flammable (note: there are many factoids scattered throughout this text, and I wish more writer’s would follow Bell’s example—I like to learn something new while I read [besides theme]).

In “Her Ennead” the author uses the technique of repetition to convey the utter absurd surprise of pregnancy, the awe and disequilibrium.

“Excerpt from Volume H-HN: Hair Boxes” (surely the strangest and freshest text in the entire chapbook) appropriates an encyclopedic voice, a hint of Barthelme (or do I dare say Borges?), as it weaves a human tale of odd construction. As the author writes, “In the end, an urge always proves too strong for the maker to resist.”

Sounds like writing, eh?

Chapbook as box of hair?

[I need nachos now, that’s it]

Yes. Images. Poetry.

Words. I said WORDS…“touching us one at a time until finally all of us are healed.”

Fuck yes.

There you go. “A laying on of fucking hands,” that’s what I would put in my blurb. Hey. You.

Consume.

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  1. […] of presses, an interview by Christopher Higgs with that non-sleeping guy Blake Butler, my review of Matt Bell’s excellent chapbook; on and on and […]

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