Who better to celebrate Valentine’s Day with than a group of young writers known for their detached ambivalence and American Apparel-esque cover art? In a time when an @-reply can feel more exciting than unexpected flowers, romance may be dead, but it makes for good reading. Check out our essential alt lit reads on love, loss and Xanax sex, and don’t be confused by so much second-person pronoun: they’re not really writing about you.
SOMETIMES MY HEART PUSHES MY RIBS by ELLEN KENNEDY
Refrains of longing and missed connection echo throughout Kennedy’s debut poetry collection, and they reflect a daily life that can change from deeply ambivalent to intensely sexual to wistfully melancholic quickly, unexpectedly, upsettingly. Love – lost, yearned for, unexplained – is a central theme.
ACTION, FIGURE BY FRANK HILTON
The pseudonymous and ubiquitous Hinton locates the already complicated roommate/lover relationship both in the broader landscape of wastelanded reality and contemporary existential despair and in the subjective interior landscape of the self. Longer than a lot of alt lit works, Action, Figure fills out the extra space well, with a depth of character and width of perspective that contextualize the ambiguous relationships so many contemporary writers describe.
LOLITO BY BEN BROOKS
Lolita with the gender tables turned, Tampa from the teenage boy’s perspective – it’s easy to summarize the prolific Brooks’ most recent – and most mature – effort in terms of other books. But his tale of boy-meets-woman (in a hotel room) stands on its own in its resolute depiction of the now that made Nick Cave a fan.
EVEN THOUGH I DONT MISS YOU BY CHELSEA MARTIN
We love Chelsea Martin’s deadpan darkness, and her semi-nonfictional prose/poetry collection from last November was one of our favourite alt reads of 2013 for good reason: she cuts any sense of lost-love sentimentality with specific yet relatable detail, and it’s funny, albeit in a laugh-through-the-pain-in-your-side kind of way.
HEAVY PETTING BY GREGORY SHERL
Sexy and deeply physical, Sherl’s first full-length poetry collection make use of a range of emotions and possibly even more body parts and deserves to be read aloud, preferably in a position as intimate as the writing. His later collection, Monogamy Songs, is worth reading, too.
ALONE WITH OTHER PEOPLE BY GABBY BESS
Re: title: isn’t that what relationships are? Bess’ much-discussed poetry collection asks poignant questions that feel necessary in the Internet era – ‘is anyone moved by the plainness of raw skin anymore?’ and focuses on the particular solitary sadness that the now can inspire: although we have access to essentially anyone we might want to be with at any time, it’s still so hard to connect.
DON'T KISS ME BY LINDSAY HUNTER
If a relationship isn’t sad it’s angry, it seems, and Hunter’s bitterly sarcastic, deceptively simple voice drives home that tension between resentment and longing in every one of these stories. Many are a mere 2-to-3 pages, but they’ll stick with you much longer than that – especially if you can relate.
I AM MY OWN BETRAYAL BY GUILLAUME MORISSETTE
Morissette’s debut novel, New Tab, is set to cover some similarly angsty romantic terrain and will be out this year, but this collection – of fiction, poetry and whatever, naturally – earned a perfect-scored review on I Am Alt Lit and backgrounds the significant use of that second-person pronoun with an email relationship that looms over the work, as they do IRL.
RICHARD YATES BY TAO LIN
Like a late-night text message, the proper nouns in Lin’s Richard Yates – its title and its two main characters, Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning – tempt you to read too much into them. Don’t. The descent into dysfunctionality that crumbles the digital foundation of the older guy/teenage girl relationship in Lin’s second novel evinces what can happen when too much textual ambiguity enters a real-life romance.
LOVE STORIES HATE STORIES BY RUSS WOODS and BRETT ELIZABETH JENKINS
In stark contrast to the confusion, ambiguity and game-playing that can turn love stories into hate stories, the title is pretty self-explanatory. This chapbook pairs poems that traverse the line between love and hate by two very different writers who bring punchy, never-cliché humour to both sides of the divide. Download here.
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