June 22, 2015

Hot Pink

The main reason I enjoy reading short fiction is because it is a genre that lends itself to experimentation. Unlike longer pieces of fiction, short stories provide a format that allows for play, exploration, and trial and error; it is easier to try something new and crazy in a short story because successes and failures both end after a few pages. The writer quickly moves on, and so do we, as readers.

In Hot Pink, Adam Levin experiments freely and isn’t afraid to fall flat. (He rarely does fall, in this collection.) Mr. Levin’s tinkering with form and style is akin to the rapid prototyping done by the father character in the opening story, Frankenwittgenstein: needs and appetites of the public change quickly, and Mr. Levin is doing his best to keep ahead of the changing reader expectations.

Frankenwittgenstein, like every other short story in the collection, does not end in any kind of expected way. In each short piece, the behaviors, motivations, and personalities of all the characters morph and transform, and the plot shifts and moves with their changing whims. Even in tales that span just a couple of pages, Mr. Levin deftly takes us through winding character arcs and convoluted storylines until we come to resolutions that are unexpected, unorthodox, and improbably entertaining.

The three standout stories in Hot Pink — Considering the Bittersweet End of Susan FallsJane Tell, and the titular Hot Pink — are perfect examples of Mr. Levin’s ability to use prose to take us inside the minds of each of his conflicted characters. None of the characters are true protagonists or antagonists, but instead complex, nuanced beings that act and listen and learn based on what’s going on in the world around them.

Mr. Levin uses vivid, almost dramatic (but never purple) language to help us get inside the heads of his heroes and villains — often, these are both the same person. The imagery that lingers in the minds of the characters of his stories also linger in ours, from the Eggs Jiselle that Susan Falls doesn’t get to eat, to the hand around the throat of Jane Tell that excites her emotionally and physically. We feel what each person in the story feels, for better or for worse.

Not every tale in Hot Pink is perfect; some are too experimental, too disjointed to fully resonate, but they all reflect Mr. Levin’s willingness to try something new, to use prose to innovate in radical ways. The format of short fiction is perfect for this experimentation, and Mr. Levin embraces it fully.

Even when it borders on the avant-garde and ungraspable, Hot Pink is gripping. When it resonates, the collection is astonishing. I’ll have to revisit it, soon.

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