Sam Pink (review by Tyler Dempsey)

by | Apr 14, 2020 | Blog, Reviews

I’m ignorant in many ways. Writing one. Reading only “Goosebumps” till college, when I was hired at a used bookstore because the gay manager thought I was attractive. Solicited my opinion on romance covers he’d ripped off and taped behind our desk. We got about 4 customers a day. That meager selection began my education. Living off half a small bag of chips per day forced me to quit. 

I’ve handled returns for a computer memory distributer(x3), been a paperboy, 4th grade tutor, gas station clerk, grounds keeper, waiter(x2), warehouse stocker, barista, middle-school janitor, dishwasher(x2), sandwich artist, banana farmer, regular farmer, built eco-friendly outdoor venues, Amazon bookseller(x2), pot farm laborer while it was still illegal(x6), bartender, recreational specialist, hiking/backpacking guide, prep cook, park guide, musician(x4), and Ranger for the National Park Service. 

Rise to power. 

Found Sam Pink, recently. I researched: “Post-modern,” “Alt Lit,” all the Underground back-slapping was there. I decided to read him anyway. Bought “I’m Going to Clone Myself . . .” 

After the first page, I called my girlfriend at 1 a.m. and recited it into her voicemail. 

Immediately, I ordered “White Ibis/The Garbage Times.” Finished over a weekend. Floored. Asked Sam to send a picture of him shooting his cat’s ass like a shotgun (The Garbage Times). 

Instead, three days later I got a package. “The No Hellos Diet,” “Rontel,” and paintings he could have made a few hundred bucks off were inside. I tried reimbursing postage. He declined.

A snake with my face wrapped around my neck—what I imagine when people are nice to me. Try to breathe, okay. 

I decided write a review instead of kill myself. Where to start? I reread those existing. “Post-modern,” “Alt-Lit.” Oh, god; don’t even know what that means. Even Bucky Sinister (Black Hole), or Steve Erickson (Zeroville), people who, in my opinion, do it well, aren’t like Sam. 

He writes “Mundane Lit.” That’s what I’m calling it—and I’m not even looking to see if it exists. Writing “Mundane Lit” pits every hindrance you can against people liking your work. Noah Cicero is the only other person I know pulling it off. 

If someone asked what your book was about, and you said—working in a department store (“No Hellos”) or crashing with your brother while between jobs (“Rontel”) or having to attend a Girl Scout party at a relative’s of a girlfriend you had (“White Ibis”)—that person would tell you to go to hell. Or maybe counter, Okay, what happens

Some praise Pink for what he does with first- or second-person, I don’t think he gives a shit. Like William T. Vollmann, whether he’s saying “you,” “I,” or “we,” is only so he isn’t forced to use his own name. His psyche couldn’t handle it. 

Art is how Pink combats worthlessness.

Why he transcends barriers—gains female audiences while making dick jokes, and is perhaps unparalleled in contemporary literature—is complex. Especially considering he’s not cheating with plot, character development, or complete sentences. 

Here are secondary tools he uses to help the momentum along, before I say what he does best:

  1. He edits like he hates everything he’s written. But also like he’s editing a film he hates. Eye-movement paramount:

The train made a stop at Damon Street and the kid in the mechanized wheelchair exited, pushed out by his mother.

Thumb in his mouth still.

He did the same wave—keeping his eyes forward.

Pushed away, waving.

Signaling, “Laaaaater, asshole.”

And I realized that part of my problem was I visibly resembled an adult.

But never became one.

  • Spins idiosyncratic, idiom-heavy dialogue, perfectly. You envision characters without description:

“Shit,” she says, shaking her head. “Oh what that worm do to him. I miss it?”

You say, “Fucking worm went to bite him again.”

Chavon stands from her chair a little and yells, “Punch that motherfucker then!”

“Punch that motherfucker,” you yell, losing enthusiasm halfway through.

More people walk into the breakroom.

Chavon leans back in her chair and says, “Hey, any you all want the macaroni and cheese in this thing. They’idn’t have the one with the mashed potatoes like I like. I know it sounds crazy, but I’on’t like no cheese. Fucking taste bad to me. Finna give it to someone at least.”

  • Teeter-totters between comedy requiring some thought and punching your nuts. Vonnegut-like:

He puts another fruitsnack in his mouth. “Finna get some mo fruitsnacks,” he says, tapping your arm to signal the conversation is over.

“Fruitsnacks,” you say, like it’s the same as “Goodbye.”

In the video a different person is talking.

Having missed the first part of his story, you don’t know what happened, but his head looks dented.

You’re eating fruitsnacks and watching a video of a man with a dented head.

You’re sad in a way that makes you want to be of use to others.

Like somehow happiness is selfish.

  • Paints sad, lonely head-interiors; but with much better imagination than you have:

I’d never accepted a random hug in my life.

And never would!

Actually no.

What the fuck.

Who am I to deny.

I’d take the first one offered by anyone right now—even if I saw the person holding a giant knife behind his/her back.

Even if the person ended up stabbing me, I’d take a deep breath and put my mouth by his or her ear and say, “I knew you’d do this. I knew it, sweetheart. And, well I still thank you for the hug.”

Where Pink kills—he teaches us how to care. If you pay attention. 

He demonstrates curiosity is insatiable; meaningless, except for laughs. And only holds demons back a second.

Until we give our last dollars to a homeless lady, really listen to a creepy janitor with the fist-sized growth on his neck—not because it’s funny—but because being open to the possibility little people can teach us something, is his gift: Humility. 

Behind a high school, you piss on the side of a dumpster.

The piss comes out itchy.

This is the part of the loop where you piss on a dumpster, and realize you’re the only person you care about.

Thanks, Sam. For making us better.

Link to The Garbage Times/White Ibis, Soft Skull Press, 2018:

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