Thought I’d write a little bit about Short Lean Cuts here, maybe clarify a few themes or just give a little bit of history or insight into this novella. I’ve been asked some really good questions about it by those who’ve read it, so hopefully this helps.
I initially wrote a version of these chapters about six years ago; they were meant to stand alone as quick bursts of flash fiction, though they continued a story and had a common theme running throughout. Two of the chapters were independently published in a couple of online literary mags, but I always intended to come back and unify the story. Which I finally did.
This book is probably best read in one sitting and it’s not hard to do; it’s only 12,000 or so words, but it holds a pretty interesting rhythm if you crank it out all at once. I’ve heard from others that it works a bit like a jazz tune–it’s intended to run that way. I found on my last re-read that I was able to get into the vibe or the world of the thing much better if I read it all at once.
Anyway…a few sentences (or pages) on the themes. I know this reads like a very experimental piece and sometimes leaves the reader in the dark; it’s mean to be abrupt and jarring at times. It’s meant to develop ideas and then leave them alone for the reader to interpret or decide.
More than anything I tried to explore or make a comment on our daily lives and society in general; I am finding that we’re very narcissistic, interested only in ourselves mostly; witness all the minutia we tweet/FB/Google+ nowadays. We tell the world where we are, what we’re doing, who we’re with, what they’re saying. I am guilty of this 100% and in a very deliberate fashion, this is also a comment on myself, as well. Self-flagellation rules. It’ll get me into Heaven, I’m told.
The narrative flows sort of like a confessional of the 21st century man. I actually was inspired by reading The Unabomber’s manifesto, published in the Washington Post in 1995 and Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto written in 1967. Solanas is best known for shooting Andy Warhol. Anyway, Short Lean Cuts is the story of a vanitous man, of a smart man, of perhaps an insane man. Like everything else around him, he comes to see himself as a Product. A product of academia, at first, then a product of society, and then a product of the Television industry. In fact, I sort of tried a little tongue-in-cheek thing about the book itself–which is a product that must be sold. And even buried more in there is criticism of my own self: an author peddling a product. In effect a product pushing its own product. Squished in there with all of this mumbo-jumbo is the fact that the character is now cleaning people’s homes using various products. Does any of this make sense? Good.
I’ve been asked about the Tramby Quirke character; it’s my comment on the ‘typical arc’ of a story (or a movie) in our times: there must always be some kind of love interest. And so that’s who Tramby is. If she’s even real. She may not be. She may be the product of the narrator’s imagination. I truly don’t know–at times it reads like it’s all an account of an insane person, and at times it reads to me as if it’s all real. Either way, Tramby is one of the most a-typical love interests I’ve ever known. She also abruptly disappears–that’s on purpose. I don’t know, was she real? Was she just in the guy’s head? I honestly don’t know.
And so the narrator becomes a product. A product with a television Q score. The implication is that he’s been convinced by producers to detonate himself on live TV as entertainment. This is an idea that came from my fascination with suicides on air–most notably that of Pennsylvania State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer who blew his brains out during a live press conference in January, 1987. I know it’s an outrageous concept, but I wonder if in a decade or so it won’t be “normal.” I’m sure we can find someone self-centered enough to go out like that. Maybe. I can feel inside me that it’s coming. “Friday Night Executions” is something I’ve been thinking about for 10 years now and given the appetite of ‘reality TV’ viewers it might not be too far off. Hell, it’ll certainly get some incredibly high ratings. Right? Right. Anyway, in preparation for his demise, he obtains an agent who advises him on which products to use to make him look healthier, tanner, etc. Parallel to that, he also has a caseworker who is presumably trying to make him more stable. All these ideas are perpendicular to each other, but I tried to make the comment that our day-to-day world is pretty fucked up and we’re being bombarded with weird, contradictory values whether from our churches, our peers, our parents, or media.
There is an on-again off-again religious undertone in this story. It’s part of addiction–or at least that’s how I see it. Addiction as: religion, drugs, sex, narcissism, career…
In the end we don’t know if any of this is real, or some obscure record left behind by a disturbed, broken man. I honestly cannot tell you, even as the writer of it–because at times I side with reality and at times I don’t. That is to say, the reality or not of this book.
My wife pointed out that the last words that close the book are left open as well: “I don’t see the flame when I pull the ripcord.” I actually never intended for it to remain open, but I suppose he doesn’t see the igniter flame because it may not be real, or it may not be happening. Or he doesn’t see it because he succeeds at detonating his vest.
Someone pointed out this book is not for the mainstream reader. But I don’t believe that. I don’t usually write ‘niche’ fiction; I just write what I think might be interesting or entertaining, or I write to comment on some aspect of my own beliefs or values (or lack thereof–according to some people).
I meant for this to be a comment on some issues that I hold close…but in the end it’s fiction, and fiction is sometimes (or more often) meant to suspend the reader out of his or her own world, and entertain. I certainly hope it does that.
Thank you all who have bought this book; it means the world to me. I worked hard on it over the years, and I’m so grateful to you for buying and reading it.