420 Characters

Lou Beach. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22 (176p) ISBN 978-0-547-61793-0
By turns cheeky and cherubic, these 420-character shorts from the author’s Facebook page encapsulate in pithy form entire plotlines or character studies. Known largely as an illustrator featuring surrealist juxtapositions and startling cut-outs (Beach’s artwork appears here intermittently), Beach injects these tidy depictions with a similar boundless, mischievous imagination. “Zuma Pedley hailed from Lubbock, came to LA in ‘02 with his guitar, some songs, and an ugly dog”; “‘Don’t drink the tap water,’ she said with science in her eyes.” Unforced, thoughtful, occasionally profound, these might be the beginning of story ideas, such as “I sit in this room in the castle’s turret and fashion animals out of twigs and string,” or a snippet of history: “Vera ‘Wooly’ Lamb dressed like a man, and could outcuss, outshoot, and outdrink anyone in pants, Little Rock, 1922.” They might even be a kind of rune for reflection, such as “I keep my friends in a box under the bed, categorized and separated, secured by blue rubber bands that originally held broccoli.” Or an exotic love story: “I cork her navel with a ruby, bring her saffron and pomegranates.” What they are, if not gimmicky, is sly, surprising, playful, puzzling—and great fun. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 09/19/2011
Release date: 12/01/2011
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