We Are The Friction
  edited by Jez Burrows and Lizzy Stewart

Sing Statistics
2009, Paperback

Authors: Frank Chimero, Charlie Duck, Ray Fenwick, Andrew Holder, Verity Keniger, Jon Klassen, Micah Lidberg, Edward McGowan, Nigel Peake, Pietari Posti, Jay Cover, Nicolas Burrows, William Edmonds, Thomas Hudson, Dan Kennedy, Carey Mercer, Spencer Krug, Mark Hamilton, Caren Beilin,  Roxanne Paris, Ben Greenman, Chris Eaton, Ryan Boudinot, Sean Michaels, Tao Lin

Editors: Lizzy Stewart is an illustrator originally from south Devon who has been living in Edinburgh for four years.

Jez Burrows is designer and illustrator from south Devon, now living and working in Edinburgh.

"Violet, I’ll discourse, is rare in genetics, so when it spatters from genetics, we see it. We see it in the trochilidae, the Sparkling Violet-ear Hummingbird, it’s body green and orange, but for the violet ear. The lovebird, especially, is violet, the color first traced in this species in Denmark only in the 1980s. "

Reviewed by Sarah Salway

First glance and I took against this book, mostly because of the way the editors seemed to make it a battle against illustrator and writer. Ray Fenwick vs Spencer Krug, Ryan Boudinot vs Pietari Posti. But then when I started reading, I saw what they were getting at. The book is in two sections. In the first half, twelve writers submit short pieces that have been inspired by illustration, but in the second half, the illustrators are asked to create something from the writing. Same writer with same illustrator.

The result is nothing short of a conversation. And to me spoke of the tension always present in creating, that although for the best writing you need to be free, you also need something to anchor back to. In this case it was the illustration or the piece of writing each contributor was responding to, and unlike most inspirations or visits from the muse, here it was a visible and solid presence.

I read this book, not page after page, but pair by pair. How did the illustrator’s work change when she had a particular story to work from? Was there a rhythm to the writing voice I could recognize between the two pieces coming from different angles in the process? Were the contributors self indulgent, or had they really engaged with their ‘opponent’s’ work? Dipping backwards and forwards in the book like this made the actual physical experience of reading more explicit, helped by the fact that this is a very satisfying book to hold in your hands. Nice production and satisfying paper texture, don’t mock, it matters.

There’s no doubt that the visual images stood out as strongly as the words, and sometimes – as in the case of Tao Lin vs Nous Nous - the pairings seemed to have taken both artist and writer by surprise, with great effect. Others, such as Dan Kennedy vs Frank Chimero fitted together completely, both their writing and their art leaving satisfying gaps for the reader to slip into. Frank Chimero’s illustration focusing on a key hanging down is particularly haunting.

It’s a great project, a beautiful book. The editors, Jez Burrows and Lizzy Stewart, admit they were "blindly optimistic" when they first sent out emails requesting involvement, but the work here, mostly from American writers, shows that they did not compromise at all in quality of both the work or the creators. With stories narrated by a bag from Whole Foods, who used to be a plastic bottle, (Ryan Boudinot), to Monster (A Play in Five Acts), Chris Eaton, and my favourite, The Vegan Muffin who worked at NASA (Tao Lin), these are innovative funny ambitious stories which nevertheless keep the optimism first felt by the editors. Some of the illustrations too are so alive, I’m not surprised to see they’ve been made into posters available on the publishers website.

I would have loved to have read some views on the process from both the writers and the illustrators, if not in the book then on the website. It felt to me that there was as much going on between the way the pairs worked together as resulted on the page. But, on the whole, if this book was set out as a battle, then the clear winner is the reader.

Sarah Salway is the author of three novels, Getting the Picture, Tell Me Everything and Something Beginning With, and two short story collections. She is currently the RLF Fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Sarah's other Short Reviews: Lorrie Moore "Self Help"   

Karen Russell "St Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves"

Niki Aguirre "29 Ways to Drown"

Michael Martone "Michael Martone"
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Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: Sing Statistics

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