By Tom Lynch
In the end, it’s boredom that will get us all.
Luckily there’s sex, dope and art to kill the numbness, the despondency of the late-teen set, the generation that has big ideas and sufficient resources, but too sensitive a skin to fully develop much of them. Too smart for their own good, too informed; too protective as well. Punks. Not slackers, but slick slobs. Slobs for their mishandled intelligence, maybe, slick from the gloss of youth. But also maybe just kids who grow up too fast and regret it only after it’s too late.
Part grit, part fantasy, part winking comedy, local writer Zach Plague’s “boring boring boring boring boring boring boring” begins with a cast list, divided into “The Art Kids,” “The Prep Kids,” “The Art Terrorists” and “The Adults.” Everyone’s 19, save for the parents. There’s a snot named Ollister and a punk named Punk. The Prep Kids are all in love with each other. The book develops over shorter chapters, for the most part titled after which character makes his or her way onto the pages; the book’s probably more about relationships than anything else: lovers, friends, enemies. Ollister, we’re told, is “too cool to have parents.” Brief, but we get it.
Plague, real name Dodson, who founded Featherproof Books with Jonathan Messinger (which is publishing this debut novel) and graphic designer by day (he once worked at Newcity), puts as much effort into the design of the book as the prose. Intricately assembled, with the overall tenderness and sometimes artistic shrewdness that can only come from the work’s creator, Plague experiments with whatever possible—texts, formats, type-sizes, fonts. No two pages are the same. Diagrams and appendixes help to explain the chaos. There’s a book within the book called “The White Ball” that’s designed to look just that, a little novella. Does it steal from the language? Maybe a little. But the design also opens doors to interpretation, even with the smallest touches, the limited text that’s block-written, or the bolding of one word in the middle of a paragraph.
The sea of instant communication and connection that the present provides for us only makes the world lonelier, and Plague’s kids, fantastic in their malaise, their creeping desires, suffer the same. It’ll probably get said more than it should, but “boring boring boring boring boring boring boring” is not boring.
“I was always shy about being a writer. I still think about myself more as a designer than a writer,” Plague says. “I’ve always been uncomfortable with [being labeled a writer]. [I] was definitely a reader, growing up. I had a lot of friends that were writers, who thought of themselves as writers. I think having them around got me into the writing habit.”
He says that he had to, basically, trick himself into writing this book. “To write this one I had to lie to myself,” he says. “You know it was written over so many years, in fits and spurts. I only wrote when I felt like it, really. Every time I sat down to write a little piece, I would be like, ‘This is just a scrap, this won’t go in the book.’ I had to pretend. I [can’t] just sit down with a black piece of paper and say ‘I’m gonna write a book.’”
Plague assembled his novel from nearly five years of writings, shorter stories that appear here as chapters. The collection gives “boring boring boring boring boring boring boring” a segmented feel, though, perhaps most impressively amongst all of this madness, Plague offers a subtle fluidity to keep it all together. “It came from a pile of writing that had accumulated over a number of years,” he says. “By it’s nature it’s really fragmented. I spent a year compiling and editing it into something cohesive and coherent, something that had a plot.”
Featherproof is offering the book in many formats, including your basic novel form and through an ambitious assortment of posters (yes, “boring boring boring boring boring boring boring” could own its own wall), and local record label Flameshovel is set to release the audio book. Plague says that presentation of the material, the design, was always in his head, and that he’d like to see more exploration in modern publishing. “I would like to see more, yeah. I mean when it does happen, people cry gimmick. I think that can be true. I think it’s true in my case,” he laughs. “It is gimmicky. I think in spite of that, though, interesting things can still come out of it.”
Is he worried about a potential backlash? “Sure, yeah. I was prepared for criticisms. ‘The design is awesome, but the writing isn’t.’ ‘The book is alright, but why did you have to go fuck with it with the crazy design stuff?’ It kind of sets itself up for one doing better than the other. But for the most part people have responded to it positively. They like both elements. People who don’t like it hate the whole thing. I did try to strike some sort of balance and not let one or the other take over too much.”
One more thing: where did the name Plague come from? “My friends have a bunch of names for me—I was just keeping in the spirit of fucking around. Also, pen names really annoy Jonathan, so it was like me getting under his skin.”
Zach Plague celebrates the release of “boring boring boring boring boring boring boring” August 18 at Hideout, 1354 West Wabansia, (773)227-4433, at 8pm. $5.