Book Review : Corey Zeller - You and Other Pieces (2015)
There are books that dance on the dividing line between straightforward narrative and bizarre realm where chaotic language and raw poetry push at the edges of meaning in order to produce a beautiful reading experience. Corey Zeller's You and Other Pieces belongs to this strange category. A dynamic and somewhat experimental hybrid that's part prose, part poetry, and part something special only Zeller does, this collection is at once lugubrious and full of magic.
You and Other Pieces belongs to the surreal realm of poetry in the sense that the words it contains seem to have forgotten the meaning of time and exist in the interstitial spaces between memory and now, the personal and the communal, real and fantastic. What Zeller offers here is proof that prose poetry can be a wonderful tool for exploring new spaces when it comes from the sharp mind of a writer who's not afraid to bleed on the page and to make readers bleed in the process.
The "pieces" inside this book are pieces of thoughts, pieces of lives, pieces of stories. They are fragments of many things that come together to be presented in new ways, to be made ours instead of only Zeller's. While the language is something constantly shifts, there are plenty of grounded narratives, and they are as great as the poetic bits that reside at the edges of surrealism because the author's style bathes them in the same light. Take, for example, the opening of Criminals.
What about the goons?
Those criminals thwarted and left for dead in every action movie for the past thirty years. I'm sure at least a dozen survived the slaughters. This one who quit working for Colombian drug smugglers is now an insurance salesman who makes kids say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning. Or this one, with a trachea, in some VA Memorial Hospital in New Jersey. he sits by the window in his wheelchair holding the wooden figurines of animals he made in a whittling class.
There is an order to Zeller's chaos, and perhaps the crowning jewel in this book is a section titled The House is a Place Where Things Can Go Wrong. This entire section is what happens when a talented poet caters to the needs of language lovers as well as those of straightforward horror fans. The pages that make up this section are packed with gloom, violence, and an unshakable atmosphere of menace:
The seventh house is aware of itself and therefore hates itself. It feels the little boy inside it move things, run, spill spice on to the floor. Everything is replaced in it: win- dows, candles, appliances, floors. The boy becomes a man inside the house and then becomes a ruined thing. He holds a knife against his throat in a mirror and cuts and cuts. The mirror becomes a kind of red sky, another house, walls the boy can live inside. The house loses the boy. The boy was a red dream the house had. The boy was a red bridge with two ends and the feeling you were waving your hands at every edge trying your best not to fall. The house coughs the boy’s blood and swallows it through each mirror. It hates itself more and more, drop by drop by drop.
There are books that linger in the brain long after the last page has been turned, and You and Other Pieces does just that. However, unlike most books, it's hard to pinpoint exactly why this bizarre, dark collection is memorable. The unique use of language and the unexpected changes in tone, subject matter, and atmosphere surely have something to to do with it, but there's more to it than that, and that something has to be experienced in order to be fully understood.