Never mind those who say it can’t be done, Gulch is definitely a book you can judge by its cover. The over-saturated colors, the mysteriously supine urbanite hipster, the carnivalesque orgy of objects in the background, even the name “Gulch,” help you understand what you’re getting into. You’re getting into something complex and occasionally self-sufficient.
The sad thing about the book is that it contains works of authentically interesting literature, which the reader might just neglect because of the odd graphic work. Sure, the pencil drawings are quirky and fun, and the big, bold, semi-transparent letters behind the text give it some punch, but sometimes the overall style becomes gimmicky.
Some pages comprise a series of tweets (for example, “Like a parade, only no one was smiling”) strung all over the page, upside down and sideways, forcing the reader to turn the book around and around to read them – risking making you look like an idiot if you read it in a public place. The three-picture (no text) poem “Concrete Sonnet” is hard to understand or appreciate. John Papoutsis’ upwards/downwards “Reset” is distracting, and Karen Correa Da Silva’s multi-fonted poem “(my)riad” doesn’t really profit from its odd form. These are all more likely to give the reader a headache than to convince them to find more of these authors’ works. Yet, while the style may be tacky and dizzying, there are literary talents in this book that are well worth the effort.
Richard Rosenbaum’s “Chicken Soup” is a delightfully constructed Jewish joke. N. Alexander Armstrong’s “The finger points at its own tip” is an absurd dogmatic epic which will get you thinking when you shouldn’t. “The Disappearing House,” by Christopher Olsen, is an interesting lesson in optimism and a nice example of “be careful what you wish for.”
Besides some more classic and eternal themes, like love, death and friendship, the stories often explore our Internet-influenced world, where users create avatars to chat in live feeds, or chat but never talk. In “Like a parade, only no one was smiling,” the whole text is a story written 140 characters at a time by different “followers” on Twitter. The modern, urban world is present in many of the works; a lot of Gulch’s authors are presently living in Toronto.
As was mentioned earlier, many of the stories and poems found in Gulch are worth reading. But the book’s format, unusual and aggressive, almost hostile, is a definite turn-off in what could otherwise have very well been a pleasant reading experience. As you turn the book upside down and wonder if the editors did this just to tease you, you may be missing out on some interesting fiction. And that’s too bad.
Readers are invited to check out the authors’ mini-self-descriptions found at the end of the book. While some are simply descriptive (“I have published here and there”) some of them are laugh-out-loud funny, and you may turn the pages back just to see if the author’s depiction of him- or herself is somewhat coherent with their work found inside.
Joseph Elfassi is a Montreal-based photographer and journalist. For more articles, photographs and videos, check out www.elfassi.ca.