If an Octopus Could Type
An existential romp through the mind of L.A. Powell.
The collection of short stories and poems is short enough to enjoy on a half hour commute but rich enough to take in smaller bites and over a longer period. I read the collection online on http://ifanoctopuscouldtype.com/ rather than on the tiny screen of my phone, and I am glad I did.
Interspersed in the collection are a series of photos, mostly beautiful women, not the cheesecake variety that you find in Maxim but the kind of pictures that you would have found if Maxim was around in 1974. As well as other cultural, humorous, or iconic images of the past 30 years. The images, while vivid and stories in themselves, rarely match the darker poetry and prose of the collection. They are more of a pallet cleanser. After a walk through the shady corners of Mr. Powell’s psyche one can breathe again when you see Marilyn Monroe reading a book.
The poems are thankfully brief quips that play more with words than they do with imagery. The use of anagrams, reductions, and fragmentations in the style of EE Cummings ‘I(a’ are either clever wordplays or insightful proverbs. My favorite being:
Kids with guns,
In their own eyes.
The meat in this philosophical collection are the stories. Not your literary musings that are more concerned with how pretty the words fit together, but real stories that hold meaning in what appears to be a meaningless world. Powell avoids the nihilistic aspect of existentialism that would make a book like this morbid and depressing. Instead he asks questions about life, love and death in small vignettes and allegories that leave the reader musing rather than suicidal.
My favorite story is ‘Tobit’, a supernatural flash, followed by ‘The Toaster or the Plate?’ an allegorical twister. Best line in the collection:
“The kitchen is a dangerous environment, if you’re an especially attractive cut of meat.”
This is to say that the collection does have some flaws. The tone and structure of the collection is somewhat haphazard. It does not flow the way a professionally edited collection would be, but since it is free, this is a minor complaint. The philosophy in the collections is more advanced than the twenty-something age of the author. That said, some of it treads the same ground that philosophers have been spinning Socrates.
The story ‘Reality Blows’ uses the ‘grandfather’s axe’ paradox. Nothing wrong with that, but the way Powell used it is reminiscent of the movie “John Dies at the End.” Nothing wrong with borrowing a scene from the movie if you can do it better, sadly Powell didn’t do it justice.
I can picture this book sitting on the shelf of a used book store between “On the Road” and “Naked Lunch”. It is a book worth reading and Powell is an author worth watching.
(review of free book)