is a writer, visual artist, humorist and HTMLGIANT contributor, and his
fiction, non-fiction and humor pieces appear widely on internet
publications and anthologies by small indie presses.
with Jimmy Chen
anything was literal, it was the instant message. Instantly, they
appeared, saying things like “12 noon starbucks,” or “janet is a ho
lol.” One had little time to gather their feelings on such matters. One
had to simply go to Starbucks at twelve o’clock sharp to wait for their
lover. (Despite, or because of war, many people had affairs.) One
simply had to deal with Janet differently now that she was a ho. Truth
was no longer essential, but only the medium in which it was expressed.
If enough people said Janet was a ho, then she became one. If enough
people went to Starbucks at twelve o’clock sharp, it would become very
Reviewed by Elaine Chiew
find it almost impossible to explain what happened to me when I first
stumbled upon Jimmy Chen's fiction. A flash in the brainpan, a jolt to
the surrealist and sensualist side of any writer, a tectonic shift in
fictional framework. And yet, that's not quite it.
This is not the kind of writing I usually like to read – a kind of
quirky tongue-in-cheek humorist approach to flash fiction that strips
out in most cases a protagonist or a storyline. In the pantheon of
writers I've read, I almost want to say a young and less alcohol-addled
Charles Bukowski (whom I don't enjoy by the way), but much less bitter
and much more inclined to take a piss at himself. I want to say:
proceed along this continuum of Bukowski, Palahniuk, Coupland to a new
generation of young male writers with derring-do, a definite "I don't
care what you think of me as I write this" attitude, like Lee Klein,
like Tao Lin, journals like Lamination Colony and Eyeshot and Yankee Pot Roast and Thieves Jargon and very LOL, by the way(laugh out loud).
Take one of the pieces in this collection (I hesitate to say "story"
because never has a genre so ill-define what this piece actually does
in all its brevity) – An E-Mail From The Amish
– in this flash, Amish culture meets the internet and an Amish tries to
respond to the 1.2 million emails received by the community in a
hotmail account set up for them without their knowledge in 1999. It's
old meets new (nothing original about that), but who thunks up
questions like "how exactly would an Amish respond or cope with the
advent of the internet and Twitter and Facebook?”"Well, Jimmy Chen
does. And all of it rendered in stereotype without an actual
protagonist. Yet, you fall for it. All over it. I mean, the Amish guy
can't figure out how to use the space bar on the typepad, and he still
talks about how they use a horseshoe to churn butter. Seriously. It's
precisely this ultra-modern, deadpan, wry and disenchanted voice I fall
The thirteen pieces in here are all geared around the concept of a
typewriter or its progeny – the words or vernacular that spin forth,
the down-the-food-chain proliferation of TYPING in an internet world.
Most of the pieces center around a funky idea or concept such as the
typographer who eats his typos and has to have a colonoscopy in which
his proctologist might discover "a novella up his anus" (The Typographer),
or the dawning of the apocalypse when we are all set to obliterate each
other but find that we revel in the use of "lol" and "lmao" and other
means of hyperbole (LOL) (the quote above is taken from this piece) or Garamond meets Malcolm Gladwell and is intimidated by his fro (Garamond).
It's not all quirky hilarics however. Jimmy Chen takes on some big
themes in this miniscule collection – e.g. the whole
emotionally-ambivalent way in which texting is done, people posting
their entire lives in pictures on the internet, legal people doing
barely legal things, illegal people doing perfectly legal things, the
phenomenon of Youtube, and in a Kafka-esque satire, a man wakes up to
513 comments on his blog post (the Meta-morphosis).
Part of me has taken the giant mushrooming of the social internet
phenomenon at face value. I take it for granted. I'm only frustrated
when it's down. It gives me great satisfaction to be able to see who's
online at the same time as I am. And I haven't really stopped to think
how the daily use of it is a gentle grafting of new identity, or
depending on your point-of-view, an abrasion of old identity. Without
being all Aldous Huxley-like, Typewriter
made me pause, take note. And I take note. I take note of how
bite-sized chunks of fiction can leave behind lingering tastes of
sociological history and satirical commentary. I take note of the
quirkiness of today's world, rendered as lateral cut, and how we never
think about it. I take note of my own traditionalist story-teller
approach to understanding flash fiction and found the form so much more
elastic and experimental than I ever thought.
itself, as a collection, is not enough to showcase Chen's enormous
talent. I didn't get a full sense from this collection of the breadth
of his imagination nor the dexterity of his writing chops nor how truly
funny he can be, not the way I did from his own website gathering of
his prodigious publications in Embassy of Misguided Zen. But it's a
good appetizer. I wanted more.
To be sure, he's not everyone's slice of pie. But if you're someone who
comes to fiction with an intuition of its madcap and down-the-
rabbit-hole potential, if you appreciate how "unexpected fiction" can
sometimes broaden your mind, you are someone who enjoys a good chortle
along the way, and you don't mind that the prose contains words like
"anus", "mindfuck" and "douchebag", Jimmy Chen might be your guy.