cover image Four New Messages

Four New Messages

Joshua Cohen. Graywolf, $14 trade paper (190p) ISBN 978-155597-618-7

Cohen’s newest (after Witz) is a quartet of short stories addressing the plight of the failed writer in a number of bizarre scenarios that effectively highlight contemporary concerns regarding authenticity and artifice. In “Emission,” a failed novelist-turned-businessman relates the tale of a hapless collegiate drug deliverer, Richard Monomian, who comes horrifically face-to-face with his online identity when a fellow partygoer and partaker of Richard’s “snax” blogs about one of Richard’s sordid sexual capers. This unsettling confluence of one’s real and digital selves is revisited in the dreamily distorted “Sent,” wherein an up-and-coming journalist finds himself in a settlement housing all the women he’d ever ogled in online pornography. By zeroing in on the loaded metaphors of the Internet, as when Cohen refers to a porn site’s catalogue of women as “its Home,” the author thriftily lends a great deal of rhetorical force to stories that less adventurous readers might deem too opaque or experimental. Though the pieces occasionally lose track of a persuasive narrative, Cohen has nevertheless crafted a series of innovative literary romps. Agent: Georgia Cool, Mary Evans Inc. (Aug.)