Dark Chatter

Dark Chatter by Andrew BranchAuthor: Andrew Branch
Publisher: Grappling Book (2013)
Number of Pages: 183
How long it took me to read: 2 weeks
Where I got this book: Uncustomary Book Submission
ISBN: 9780985805708

Like a Moth to a Flame

Satire has always been one of my great literary loves. I recently strayed away from the genre, possibly just out of my own self-inflicted overexposure to it, but it was inevitable that I would end up with a book like this in my hands again. I also like that this is a recently released book by an author who seems to be new to the scene (I couldn’t find much about him online). I’ll be the first to admit that I probably don’t give enough new authors a chance; it’s just easier to commit to a novel that I’ve seen in stores more often. Books by authors who haven’t broken through yet don’t give off that air of quality assurance that best sellers do. Every author and book was new at some point though, so I should stop judging. This is my first step towards correcting my behavior. Congratulations on being witness to my personal growth as a reader.

Favorite Five

I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “The rich stitch of his vintage breeches clashed with his trench stench; he had crap camouflage for every kind of crowd. He was all the bad bits of the rich and the homeless meeting halfway for a mid-class crisis.” (p.127)

4. “Smoking: good for appreciating jokes with a liquidless spit-take, for dragging with your eyes locked on the person talking so as to seem to be sucking their story or advice right into oneself.” (p.21)

3. “You must know that if you see me behind a highball glass, I am only into the gin as a side-effect of being hooked on tonics, which is something all precocious girls are these days. And I am certainly precocious.” (p.71)

2. “They could have been incinerated together and settled down into molecular matrimony that nothing would ever sever. Instead, he was alone.” (pp.124-5)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “Pretty things don’t get created or destroyed. They’re in parts of your brain that shrink but never go away, like fat cells. Alcohol dehydrates them.” (p.71)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

The first thing I want to say, since it’s glaringly obvious in Branch’s writing, is that this guy has an absolute field day with alliteration and rhyming. It’s not exactly the most profound observation (as anyone who reads this book will see), but it’s just such a huge aspect of his writing that I wanted to talk about it. It does feel kind of cheesy at first, but the more he keeps it up, the more impressed I’m becoming. It’s doesn’t feel like he just wedges a rhyme between every page for the sake of keeping it up (like some kind of literary OCD). It flows so seamlessly with whatever he’s saying at the time that I doubt he could ever express himself the same way without it. I won’t re-write it here, but the fifth quote I posted above is one of my favorite examples of this (the second quote works, too). I have to read lines like this out loud and enunciate each word to fully appreciate them. It’s just a sentence describing the juxtaposition of an outfit that the protagonist, Quicklime, is wearing, but it shows how precisely Branch crafts his writing. There’s no fluff. Everything feels like it’s been put into place with careful thought. He creates a sense of punctuated purposefulness (that was my shameless attempt at trying it). There’s even a nod to this when, after one character speaks, the narrator mentions, ‘This alliteration was pronounced with the decadent relish of a kinkster engaged in wordplay.’ (p.18) It’s not something that I would want to see in every book I read, but it adds an interesting aspect to this read; it’s as integral to the story as any one of its characters.”

“This is going to sound weird but I think I enjoy the character of Quicklime Petterson so much because I don’t understand him at all as a person. In fact, I’m feeling confident enough to say that I probably understand him less than any fictional character I’ve read about in the last few years. It’s not that he isn’t explained well; I definitely have a general sense of his motivation. He has philosophical issues with the more wealthy and sophisticated aspects of his lineage, and he seems bent on proving to himself that he’s better than the money he comes from while actively being as unrefined as possible.

“It’s just that, even as an unconventional protagonist, Quicklime is bizarre. He’s like this hipster anti-hero who’s too cool to acknowledge how much of an anti-hero he is. I get the impression that he tries hard to be so lax and crude, and his characteristics frequently contradict one another. He’s rich, yet poor. Sophisticated, yet sloppy. Desirable, yet repulsive. He doesn’t have much going for him, but it seems to be by choice. I feel like there’s a calculated cunning hidden underneath it all. He reminds me of the type of people I went to school with who seemed the most destined to fail, but because of their whimsical lifestyles, managed to stumble upon success in ways I could never imagine. Mostly, this just tells me I wouldn’t like him if I were to ever run into him on the street. I overthink a lot of things, and planning is essential to almost 90% of the decisions I make, so meeting someone like this would probably just piss me off. As a character that I’m just reading about, his situation hits me a bit differently. It’s rare you get to read about a protagonist who’s so unpredictable, and that can be fun sometimes. I have no expectations for him or where his character arc might go, and it definitely gives me a reason to keep wanting to turn to the next page.”

“I find it endearing how Quicklime seems so sincere about everything he attempts to do. For example, there’s a part early on in the book when he meets a woman after getting into a car accident with her. In trying to hit on her, he finds out that she eats a raw vegan diet. Well, what do you know? He replies that he’s a raw vegan as well, even though he acknowledges that he wasn’t one up until the moment he met her. The first thought that comes to mind is, well, that’s an overwhelmingly cocky thing to say. His response comes off like a snarky quip Robert Downey Jr. would say to an uninterested woman in one of his movies.

“But, as the story continues, it seems that I’m wrong. Despite the fact that Quicklime never sees or even mentions this woman again, he keeps insisting he’s a raw vegan for the majority of the book. I didn’t understand it at first. I thought maybe he was being sarcastic, but whenever the topic comes up, he’s as serious about it as serious can be. It’s not mocking, but strangely genuine; almost childlike in some ways. It’s like hearing about a five-year-old who donates his entire piggy bank to a charity even though all the adults know it only has $1.65 worth of change inside. It’s not about the money but about how heartwarmingly cute it is to see someone so innocent act selflessly. That’s the feeling I get from this side of him. I never feel like it really has a purpose, but he seems to think he’s helping or pleasing someone by trying to eat only raw, and that makes me want to give him a pat on the back and buy him an ice cream cone.”

“Having read the plot summary on the back cover, I began reading Branch’s work under the impression that his book would probably be about some of the shame, angst, and/or confusion of being a directionless liberal arts major several years out of college. Although I don’t like to discuss it much, this was me for a good two years of my life. I graduated college with an English degree, just like Quicklime, and spent what felt like an eternity just sort of going nowhere. I’m also witnessing this happening right now with a lot of my friends who graduated after I did. There’s a lot of depression and pessimism about what the future will bring and it’s frustrating to see others go through the same struggles while not being able to help them. This being the case, it’s still a sensitive subject for me, and I was curious as to how Branch would cover it from his own perspective.

“As it turns out, this book really doesn’t touch on the topic in the way I imagined it would. While true, the protagonist is two years out of college without many career prospects, he seems confident and in control of his situation. It’s just kind of incidental that the book begins with Quicklime as this failure of a college grad. The vibe I get from him is that he could turn his life around at the drop of a dime; be anywhere or try anything that he wants.”

“Satire is one of the genres where elements of surrealism can be sprinkled unapologetically throughout to aid in the storytelling process, and I’m glad that Branch didn’t stray away from that. Surrealism can add fantasy or unnatural imagery to a story, and if used correctly, its components can elevate the characters and settings to an almost mystical level where the events are just possible enough to be true, but just insane enough to transcend normal reality. When used in satire, it’s one of the best tools that a writer has at his or her disposal to dispense social commentary. For example, on page 74, Quicklime stays at a hotel where Wi-Fi clashes with the decorum, so ‘[s]taff were pleased to print and perform readings of guests’ emails, and pornographic actors were on call for live shows’ In this case, Branch obviously uses it to highlight the nature of high-class society and their sometimes bizarre standards for sophistication. Later, during Quicklime’s stint at turning domestic, his grocery shopping habit turns so severe that his food stockpiles begin to turn into such towering mountains that he has to measure ‘inventory levels by summit altitude,’ including his biggest pile, ‘Mt. Maxi Pad.’ (p.156) Descriptions like these, while odd and unrealistic, aid in expanding the satirical environment of the story.”

“I’ve reached the end of this journey with Branch and I realize that his story has actually shaken me up. It feels like I’ve missed something. I’m sure there were probably a few undertones that went over my head; definitely some jokes and a plot point here or there that I failed to catch onto when reading. Not because of careless reading on my part either, just because that seems to be the nature of the book. I don’t think I was supposed to absorb it all after one sitting. I kind of get the feeling this was part of the author’s intention. Hell, for all I know, it could be that I just wasn’t his best audience. Then again, despite feeling somewhat disconnected from parts of the storyline, I’m still in awe of his writing style. I get the feeling that a lot of passion went into this work, and above all else, that’s really what I’ll remember about this experience.”


Jared Dee

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