Hank Forest's Party
Price: U.S. $12.95*
Hank Forest's Party
Green Integer Series No.: 215
ISBN: 978-193338-247-0, Pages: 342
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Hank Forest's Party continues to make ABC Street's tranquilly radical argument for the horizontal storytelling of life as it passes while asking itself fresh questions about time, memory and its own reasons for telling stories as it does. Unlike their previous Green Integer volume, ABC Street, the action of this fiction takes place entirely on ABC Street and the narrative circles the singular event of the title.
The two volumes of this outward-looking autobiography/novel/philosophical journal suggest a dedicated, life-long way of documenting life as fiction.
The authors have opened a channel into the background where the lives and places of the two ABC Street volumes are always forming and re-forming. The entire work, titled Monica's Chronicle, can be found at www.ascher-straus.com.
YOUR IMPOSSIBLE VOICE, April 25, 2014
by Mary Burger
Hank Forest's Party is the latest volume of a collaborative project, part novel, part memoir, part philosophy, written by Sheila Ascher and Dennis Straus and published under the name Ascher/Straus. The ongoing project Monica's Chronicle, begun in the 1970s, is a narrative of the process of narration. Narrator Monica records experiences of everyday life in a neighborhood in Rockaway Park, Queens, and weaves her notes through reflections and reinterpretations about the connections between experience, memory, and writing.
The framing event in Hank Forest's Party is the birthday of a little boy on Monica's block. The party overlaps with Monica's efforts to remember and write about it:
Monica enters Grete and Andy's new apartment, looks around memorizing. Carries this overly-fresh memory like a bright basin of water that's going to slosh and spill with every step. Keeps spilling throughout the day, till she gets home. Already in Grete and Andy's apartment she's wondering if there will be anything left to pour out at her desk, where writing replaces memory.
The question of how experiences become stories is a constant through line:
Thinking at the party (as if already not at the party) or at home later (as if still at the party) Monica wonders why one story chooses us and not another. Many-many-too-many stories are always buzzing about, but only one buzzes up and bites us.
The time and space of the story spill far beyond the party into the extended lives of the block's residents. Monica relays intimate back stories and day-to-day details that stack and overlap like the close-quartered living spaces of the block itself. She knows her neighbors' private hopes and disappointments, as if privy to their inner monologues:
Marriage to Andy Forest changed nothing. Very disappointing to Grete. Had assumed, without thinking much about it, that marriage to Andy Forest would change the balance of life in this house, but it didn't.
Other neighbors literally walk into Monica's narrative as she records the day's events from her front porch:
Pat Corcoran steps out of her front door through Monica's writing and says that Philip passed his exam and is already working: an apprentice splicer, on his way toward becoming a full-time splicer and hopefully even a master splicer like his father, John.
But that's not what she wants to talk about, she says. Something is bothering her and she has to talk about it.
Despite the story's inquisitive and intimate tone, we never learn much about Monica herself. She explores her ideas through the material of others' lives -- a filmmaker who never comes out from behind the camera. Some of the detachment comes through the accumulation of time -- Hank Forest's Party was written 25 years after the framing events. Periodically the story is preoccupied with what was left out or lost from the first notes:
Monica's notes say: "at her desk in the red room": but now, twenty-five years later, she doesn't remember (and doesn't see how there could have been space for) a desk in the red room.
Events circle back to Hank's party, even as years pass, couples split up or move away, and Hank himself is no longer a little boy. By the end, Monica seems no more certain about the nature of storytelling, though no less energized to keep interrogating it:
True or false: what's remembered is an impediment in the stream of what-doesn't-want-to-be-remembered. What-doesn't-want-to-be-remembered seeks forgetfulness by flowing as rapidly as it can around and through memory's rusting chassis where, twenty-plus years ago, it tore up railing and embankment and landed in the river just where it makes a beautiful bend out of town.
RAIN TAXI, Summer 2018
by Stephen Beachey
Excerpt from "Abandon All Expectations"
An Afterword for the re-release of The Other Planet
About forty years ago, stories and poetry began to appear from a composite-entity, a "collective" formed by Sheila Ascher and Dennis Straus and publishing as Ascher/Straus....
...Ascher/Straus's oddly structured and quietly surreal novels have been interspersed with even more oddly structured and loudly experimental novels or novel-like things; it isn't surprising, therefore, the degree to which they remain unknown, despite the intelligence and vision that crackle from every page. they've resisted the primary mechanisms of corporate publishing, which are not so different form those of most indie publishing: the creation of a recognizable stylistic and marketing niche. Instead of capitulating to the cult of personality that drives literary production in America, they have obscured and undermined the idea of themselves. Their experimentalism has been playful and evolving, depending on the shifts in their own interests more than on the requirement to be consistently "experimental enough."...
Their most recent books are the two volumes of ABC Street (ABC Street and Hank Forest's Party), released by Green Integer and placing Ascher/Straus where they belong, alongside Stein, Wilde, Poe, Celine, and Michaux, in a line publishing "Essays, Manifestos, Statements, Speeches, Maxims, Epistles, Diaristic Jottings, Narratives, Natural histories, Poems, Plays, Performances, Ramblings, Revelations, and all such ephemera as may appear necessary to bring society into a slight tremolo of confusion and fright at least." ABC Street combines the journal with the novel, a chronicle that isn't about the self that produces it but about the context that surrounds that self and about the act of chronicling itself. Its author, "Monica," is re-creating conversations that happen among constellations of characters who surround her, strictly realistic New Yorkers who seem only slightly less surreal than the characters of the previous books. Their dark sense of humor is familiar. Yvonne, herself the mother of a baby who's sucking up her life energy, confronts her destiny with words that say life stinks, a voice that says it doesn't matter: "Yvonne wants to know if Monica can figure Janey Hedges out. Janey's little one Joe Andy's not even a year old but she's got another one due in June! Janey's not stupid so why'd she need two nooses to kill herself?" Simultaneously, ABC Street sends out ripples that change our reading of the other Ascher/Straus books, blurring lines of memory and realism and imagination, while it forces us to confront the way writing itself, and the sorts of perception that drive writing, is a medium conducive only to very particular ways of understanding. Monica discovers that "what interest her as a chronicler has as little to do with what's ordinarily meant by realism as it does with what's called imagination." Chronicling is a form of editing, creating order and meaning out of disorderly experience. "But another path eludes both reader and editor, arriving in every text as if of its own free will." The chronicler's intentions go awry. Thinking and intending to write about one family, she ends up starting a book about people she hadn't thought about at all -- a collection of stories titled Red Moon/Red Lake. As much as the chronicles are about writing, however, they are even more about remembering, remembering through writing or at the edges of writing, and about the vast sea of unremembered, unchronicled, unknown events or non-events that surround the thin little stream of meaning we create with language. The two volumes of ABC Street explicitly raise questions about the function and intent of fiction and present themselves as models of something else: "a necessary aesthetic argument for a radically different basis for fiction, even more so than in the sense that every work of art is an argument for itself and against everything else."
Despite all the thinking that goes on in these books, they are never pretentious, boring, or incomprehensible, and are consistently funny. Ascher/Straus have chosen their own canon and manifested that subjective history as a unique constellation; they are a crossroads where Doctor X, Shadow of a Doubt, The Damned Don't Cry, and Lola Montes come together with the sort of "European" fiction that involves a devastating intellectual engagement with the world....
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