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Sep 19

Blot Lit Reviews: Tables Without Chairs #1 by Brian Alan Ellis and Bud Smith

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Tables Without Chairs #1,  Brian Alan Ellis and Bud Smith
Illustrations by Waylon Thornton
House of Vlad, 2015
ISBN: 978-0996352659
Reviewed by Julie Demoff-Larson

Everyone loves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Even though separately both taste so good, spread them together on a cracker and you just can’t stop eating the stuff. The same goes for the fun and energetic duo Brian Alan Ellis and Bud Smith and their collaborative project Tables Without Chairs #1, with illustrations by Waylon Thornton. Split in two, Ellis and Smith each have a chapbook sized section to spin their tales, although Smith’s stories read like they are more in the nonfiction tradition.

Tables Without Chairs begins with Ellis’ two pieces. The first and more serious of the two, “Sexy Time in the Spook House, Oh Yeah!” is a series of ten short-short scenes that examine a broken heart and what one goes through to move on. Of course this is definitely a male perspective, but the writing is relatable because sex as a coping mechanism works well here. At first there is an oh-no moment, thinking each scene shallow and on the misogynistic side. But wait, the loneliness and hurt is gradually revealed and a human quality is shown. There is a grittiness in Ellis’ work and some nice poetic moments shine through, especially in “Disposable Promise.”

“It’s God, and it’s God, and it’s God.

And it’s the clouds of burning broken days; days like green pebbles; days like drowning ships; days like jelly hearts, carved out; days like a runaway dog, a buried cat; days like a shattered bulb; days of smoke and ash, empty pill bottles, empty coke baggies; days of blood and stitches and emergency rooms; days chipping away at the enamel of what’s left of me; days dead like me, like her; days dead, yet somehow still breathing.

And it’s my sorrow.”

But Ellis’ wit and weirdness shine through in “Ha-Ha, Sad Laughter,” the second piece in his section. I found myself laughing through most of these one-liners, dialogues, musings, and insights. “How to Blurb a Book” is hilarious and reminiscent of Bill Yarrow’s “The New Blurb,” pokes fun at the seriousness behind the book blurb, or maybe at the ridiculousness of them—you choose. But the best of the lot are Ellis’ “greater than” offerings. So simple, yet they say so much.  A few that will grab your attention:

“Miller High Life > Arthur Miller
Pop-Tart prize > Pushcart Prize”

As much as Ellis’ work entertains, Smith’s offers an equal amount of intimacy. The selection of shorts takes us on a walk through everyday life that showcase Smith’s relationships and neighborhood. The special thing, the “it” thing, that voice that comes through in his writing is indicative of oral storytelling. There is an organic, most natural ease about the writing that is also evident in his live readings—if you have not heard Smith live I encourage you to look him up on YouTube to better understand. He crafts each piece in the same manner as if he were sitting on your porch drinking a beer telling about his day. No added fluff or emotion, just what it is. His “yeah, this is my life” attitude is refreshing and leaves you wanting a larger glimpse into that life—that lifestyle. For example, in “Did You Leave Your Keys Here,”

“It’s 3am, our New Year’s party is over. 40 people were here. Random friends and people the friends brought. Our one neighbor came, Bob, the opera singing nudist, and he didn’t get naked but he did sing opera for us in my kitchen. His roommate, the Screamer, didn’t come.

Know who else came? The lady downstairs who I’m at war with, but that’s normal. She always comes up and knocks.

This time she told us to keep the noise down. I said, “YOU’LL HAVE TO CALL THE POLICE!” and opened the door just enough to slam it for effect. Fun!”

There is definitely a Kerouac quality to Smith’s writing, which I enjoy. This is blue collar. This is everyday people. Take “Calm Face” for instance, written as a list of observations, then taking action and sometimes just an offering of advice. Even though the language is bare bones, there is a nice layering of themes that work well with one another: an old coat, paperback books, and morning coffee. Here is a little peek into Smith’s craft:

“5 Woman walking down the street swinging her arms and singing, holding a paperback book.

6 Another woman not swinging arms and not singing, actually, weeping, leans against the metal box that used to house a payphone, her hands are empty.

7 Conclusion: The weeping woman needs a paperback book.”

Simple and easy to grasp, right? But Smith comes full circle in a coffee shop when he is taking too long to place his order,

“21 I say to the annoyed man, “You need to find yourself a paperback book to hold in your hand. That’ll cheer you up.”

Tables without Chairs #1 is a quick read. On an evening after a hard day’s work, when you are looking for a laugh, or some entertainment, not enough energy to dissect Homer or Joyce, then this is the book to pick up and read. Ellis and Smith are a great match as they are similar enough to keep the flow going throughout. The artwork by Waylon Thornton adds to the rawness and helps with transitions, while brief interviews and bios add a personal flair. Good work here.

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