Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Psychological Methods to Sell Should Be Destroyed, by Robert Freeman Wexler

Psychological Methods to Sell Should Be Destroyed
Robert Freeman Wexler
Spilt Milk Press: 2008

Psychological Methods... is the first collection / chapbook from Robert Freeman Wexler. It contains five previously published stories and story original to this collection. The stories were published in LCRW, Polyphony, The Third Alternative (renamed Black Static), and Full Unit Hookup.

The chapbook opens with the story "Suspension", a tale about a man who is and has "six foot six inches, four arms, and 320 pounds". Quatrain Brauner spends almost the entirety of the story flat on his back in the snow, stared at and occasionally jeered, this big freak of a man who is really just a normal guy, or would be if he could be. Strong start.

"Tales of the Golden Legend" is easily the best story of the chapbook. There are people in the world who can speak with bread. Literally. There's even a section narrated by bread. Simply awesome in every way. This is the sort of story I had hoped to find in the chapbook. There is probably nothing more you need to know about this story besides "talking bread".

Wexler began to lose me, however, with "Valley of the Falling Clouds". I suspect half my problem was character names of Moonsocket and Apple Jane and the other half is that I have no idea what happened in the story. My last problem is that I cannot possibly describe or analyze the story because I don't remotely have an idea what happened. That frustrates me even if it is a failing of mine as a reader.

Story four is "The Green Wall" and is the last good story in the chapbook. A guy working as an art dealer in Little Italy (Manhattan) during an Italian festival sees a video of a living, breathing jungle projected against the wall outside his apartment. The story follows this man as he goes about his day(s) and becomes more and more obsessed and interested in the green wall. It's a story of getting out of ones life and into something special, though "The Green Wall" takes a while get there.

"Indifference" is a story of, well, indifference. Brown, the story's lead, just doesn't seem to care about anything and perhaps as a result, neither did I.

The final story, "Sidewalk Factory: A Municipal Romance" is the sole original story to Psychological Methods flat out weird. The story opens with "The new sidewalks of our city are to be molded from discarded felt hats." and progresses to tell a story of a strangely repressed society where the "Lord Mayor" makes the rules and with propagandist language declares the city is right and changes things. Sort of like a Big Brother Doublethink, though not nearly to that extent. That's the feel to the story. Except not as good. It's a frustrating story in that the lead character, unnamed, doesn't seem to possess any noticeable emotion or defining characteristic that makes me, as a reader, want to read about him. There is interesting stuff going on around the edges of the story, but the center does not hold.

So, as a whole, Psychological Methods to Sell Should Be Destroyed is not a great chapbook. There are three stories worth the time and three which are not. For $5, it's a good deal even though there is just as much disappointment as there is satisfaction. Besides, my tastes may not line up with everyone else's, so perhaps my disappointments will be somebody else's joy. Had I not received a review copy, I might have purchased this anyway (though not for a few months) and having received the review copy and read the chapbook, I can say that I wouldn't have been disappointed if I paid the $5. It's not a ringing endorsement, but Pyschological Methods is not a chapbook that gets that sort of endorsement (not from me). For the price, it's worth a chance. Perhaps that's enough.

Reading copy provided courtesy of John Klima / Spilt Milk Press.

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