With so much of written work today revisiting the same ground as other works and rehashing the same themes, such as the overabundance of modern vampire romance novels, it is truly fascinating to see work that breaks away and does something entirely its own. Connecticut Shade is, by far, one of the most unique pieces of writing I have read in a long time.
I have heard Connecticut Shade described as a novella, poetry, stream-of-consciousness, and a plethora of other classifying terms. After reading it, I threw all that right out. There is no point to trying to classify Connecticut Shade. It is a useless, futile exercise. The book should just be read, not classified.
Now, Connecticut Shade is not for everyone. I do not say that because of the structure. Admittedly, there are no page numbers. This is because reading is not confined to any linear path through the book. Rather, the reader makes their own way by grabbing at different paragraphs, each voiced by one of a number of different identities identified by little pictures. The narrative thread carries through just as well if the reader selects the paragraph voiced by The President:
He would drop leaflets, but he was no arsonist. He didn’t even know if he was an Atheist, almost. He didn’t even know if there was no God to not worship. Warship? One would never be named for him, although the few Cubans he had would be enough to bring life back to any sphincter. What, he was going to light his own Goddamned house on fire? He didn’t even live there yet. But it would be his house: Fire.
and then reads the paragraph voiced by the Meth Lady that follows it:
Although she had never met him, the ad said she could get the prescription for free and have free shipping and free service 24/7; in other words, what she deserved. It had popped up on her Internet thing while she was searching on Yahoo! For “Dunhill.” Ambien. $5.00 off. She clicked. She typed. She confirmed. Post-Apocalyptic Pharmaceuticals. She didn’t have an answer for that, but she did have a desire under its influence: Voice-Mail.
as if they grab the paragraph near the physical end of the book voiced by the Child Actor:
Although only he knew about his “little problem” (and his greedy parents, the sons of bastards), he couldn’t think it anything but ironic he had to wear what his publicist called “big-boy pants.” They were like underwear to a point, but…he yelled for a juice box and stepped into the lights. Salsa.
and then read the paragraph near the physical beginning voiced by The Cat:
Everything the cat did was out of desperation. Her bin was abominably full, and the Multiple Cat Scoop Clumping Formula the person chose did little to hide the log monsters and crusted puddles laying near the surface. She had given up, for the time, complete burial. I mean, really.
Any order the reader chooses works. Connecticut Shade is fascinating for this fact by itself, let alone the other qualities of the book.
What I mean, though, that this book is not for everyone is that not everyone can handle the drive of the narrative itself, the intensity of emotion and the rawness of the language. As the above paragraphs amply demonstrate, it is primal, brutally honest, and unrelenting. This narrative is powerful and it cannot help but affect. Rather than describe hell, it creates it for readers. They experience it first-hand. The hell may have originated in the loneliness and despair of one man, but it is the hell we all inhabit to some extent but refuse to recognize- the hell of modern existence. Some readers cannot handle that, but it will be their loss if they do not get to experience Connecticut Shade.
Those that can handle it should check Connecticut Shade out. They may not be certain what to make of it at first, but they don’t have to. Once the Mack truck of it runs them over, they’ll have plenty of time to sit and figure out what just happened. They can randomly flip around. They can read it forwards, then backwards. They can read only the passages denoted by the sandwich, then the ones denoted by the vote button and the knife. Whichever way they go for, the experience will be memorable and unique.
David Atkinson is currently pursuing his MFA in creative writing at the University of Nebraska. He also holds a law degree as well as bachelor degrees in Computer Science and English Literature and Culture. His short fiction has appeared in Fine Lines and he has published articles in The Nebraska Lawyer and 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. He currently works as a patent attorney at the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney in the Denver office.