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Sunday, July 19, 2015

Portrait of the artist as a young punk: Best American Short Stories 2014

Another story in the Best American Short Stories 2014, Jennifer Egan, ed., about the music scene - a particular interest of Egan's - this one This is Not a Love Song, by Brendan Mathew - the first story to this point in this collection that is somewhat unconventional in narrative form - using a series of vignettes over time to tell the life story of a friendship between two young counterculture high-school aspiring artists - the narrator, a would-be photographer, and her bestie Kat, a punk-rock-indie musician. Over time, Kat becomes pretty famous in the music scene, then withdraws, then (spoiler here, kinda - though hardly unexpected) dies young (of cancer, not of the many rx she ingests). Along the way we get some vivid sketches of the scene in clubs, lofts, on the road - sometimes straight short narrative sequences, some times "transcripts" of recordings (not sure who made these or why) - and all of the material rings true and, though centered on the Art Institute crowd in Chicago, could take place in any U.S. city with a serious art school and some old lofts or abandoned mills. I quibble a little with the ending, which seems too easy and predictable, and I only wish Mathew had pushed the experimental style further: given that his narrator is a photographer, I wonder if he considered using imagery - photos or sketches - making the story more of a collage. That said, it's another one of the rare stories that covers the scope of a lifetime rather than the arc of a single event.

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