Pip Smith (editor), This Is the Penguin Plays Rough Book of Short Stories (Pip Smith, 2011)
Since 2008, first in a room in a flat above a convenience store in King Street, Newtown, and then in the front section of a warehouse in St Peters, Pip Smith and her housemates have hosted Penguin Plays Rough – a series of monthly short story readings. I’ve been twice, and each time has been a joyfully mixed bag with an appreciative mostly inner-west, mostly young crowd.
A number of pieces were written especially for the book, so it’s not so much a ‘Best Of’ as a print equivalent of the anarchic creativity of those evenings, a showcase for the PPR talent. The text doesn’t lie quietly on the page as in a well behaved book. Each story is set in a different font, ranging from 8 to 24 point. One seems to have been hand lettered on note paper and scanned in. One (which I found unreadable) is laid out as a Wikipedia entry. Each has its own illustrator, and the range of graphic styles is impressive (email addresses and web sites are listed at the back). It’s a shining example of self-publishing.
And it’s a good read. Fidel Castro walks in its pages, along with Johnny Cash, Lot from the Book of Genesis, Emanuel Swedenborg (in his own words), Tariq Ali, Cosmo Kramer and the characters from The Wonder Years. Some startling pieces seem to run close to memoir. There are well-made stories, a film pitch, a playlet, some cut-ups.
It’s probably a generational thing that there’s quite a bit of explicit sexuality that seems to my aged sensibility to owe quite a bit to sustained exposure to porn. Zoe Coombs Marr’s ‘Genesis’ is a kind of Biblical fanfic whose subtitle gives fair warning: ‘The story of Lot, comprising the invention of buggery; the downfall and destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; Lot’s family’s flight to the mountains when his wife is turned into a pillar of salt; and his date-rape by his daughters in a cave’. The photographs illustrating the story are tactfully low res. If you have a low tolerance for misogynistic porn, do not read Luke Carman’s ‘All That Pap’, a memoirish piece that includes shocked adolescent exposure to some of it. It’s possibly relevant that when the Sydney Morning Herald interviewed Pip Smith (here), they found it necessary to substitute prim little dashes for some of her evidently unladylike language.
The stand-out pieces, to name just three in random order, are Pip Smith’s neat ‘Five Husbands’ (yes, she hosts a salon, edits a collection and also writes!), Amanda Maxwell’s pseudo horror story, ‘Playing Imaginary Cards with Jeremy’ and Michael Sala’s tale of love lost, financial intrigue and tourism, ‘The Catacombs’.
I’ve been discovering lately that some books I bought in the 1970s would be worth hundreds of dollars now if I had kept them in good shape. Who knows what this will fetch in 2050? Sadly, I’ve already given away the gorgeous poster it comes wrapped in.