“Eat When You Feel Sad” by Zachary German (Review)

October 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

eat when you feel sad“Eat When You Feel Sad” (Melville House) caught my attention while researching minimalist literature. From Zachary German’s wikipedia page…

“Eat When You Feel Sad” is a novel about a character named Robert set in an unnamed city. Consisting of a stream of declarative sentences, (subject, verb, object), this novel has been described as minimalist in tone and editing.

I bought and read it, and sure, I agree. Minimalist in tone and editing.

I’ve been reaching a split in my research. There is minimalist writing of the Raymond Carver bent, which is to say literature that is written clear and simple in order to tell a reader something, devoid of even a trace of cliche or writerliness or narrative voice. German falls into this category. Maybe. I will refer to this as Tone Minimalism (TM).

The other category is more Beckettian. Writing that is simple, not necessarily in tone or style, but in content. Relative to word count, the content gets spread so thin that it approaches the saying of nothing. I will refer to this as Content Minimalism (CM).

I am going to try to write this without mentioning Tao Lin, as I have never read any of Lin’s novels. I have a feeling German’s writing is similar though, from what I have read of Lin’s poetry and short stories. Self-conscious, young characters moving around in a city full of pronouned objects and entertainment, depressed maybe, searching for happiness, with a very distanced TM style.

EWYFS feels like more though. At times, it is so minimalist in tone that it almost mocks the style. The novel as a whole is not CM, but the manner in which German separates trivial actions into even more trivial actions, and into even more trivial actions, it begins to approach a kind of CM relative to what a typical writer/reader would consider not worth mentioning.

Robert, Jim and Eric walk out of Rachel and Ashley’s apartment. They walk out of Rachel and Ashley’s building. Robert, Jim and Eric smoke the joint. They walk to Eric’s building. They walk into Eric’s building. They walk upstairs. They walk into Eric’s apartment. They walk into Eric’s bedroom. Robert sees his scarf. He picks it up. There is a cigarette burn on Robert’s scarf. Robert puts on his scarf.

Separating They walk to Eric’s building. and They walk into Eric’s building. I find kind of hilarious. It’s as if German is assuming the reader is going to consider every phrase as a logical truism. Walking to a building does not logically include the act of walking into it, but in commonspeak we sort of imply it because why would someone walk to a building if not to eventually enter the building? The default is understood already, that they would walk into it, and any other author would only consider separating if they weren’t walking into the building, like if they were going to leap over the building or something. When we are forced, as readers, to consider these default actions separately, they open up, they become part of the thread of the thing and something everyone can identify with. We all experience these everyday actions. They are part of humanity. They are true. The style feels so logically true, I end up reading German’s writing as if he honestly cares about all these actions, the trueness of them, and that they are worth mentioning. Every minute action listed does not so much spread events thin, but seems to enrich them.

I had trouble getting into this book near the beginning, but there are moments that contrast the everydayness and I would occasionally become completely engaged in what was happening, to the extent that it surprised me. The book almost shares the same plotline of Bukowski’s “Women” if you imagine Chinaski as a twenty-something, passive, self-conscious New Yorker. (Sidenote: both novels have character’s named Lydia). Closer to the end, I became more and more engaged as the complexity of relationships relative to each other built up.

A good read, an almost frustratingly repetitive style, just like life.

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