In February 2010, David Shields released “Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.” In this text, Shields laid out a barrage of thoughts (some his own, but most grabbed and remixed from the voices and works of other thinkers and writers), arranging them into twenty-six theme-driven chapters. All this in an effort to light a fire in the world of fiction, which “Reality Hunger” chastised as an increasingly hermetic one, amidst an era of hyper media-saturation, constantly evolving form, and an overwhelming public demand for sensation and brevity.
“Fakes,” a new anthology of writing curated by Shields and Matthew Vollmer, represents a work in this vein. With its plurality of voices, all pushing at the edges of form in various—but always short-lived—styles, this collection (subtitled “An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts and Other Fraudulent Artifacts”) highlights and propagates an alternative to the marginalized voice of The Author.
There’s no arguing that the amount of pure information which inundates us daily is, to say the least, staggering—especially if you’ve got a desk job. Novel reading has dropped off noticeably in this climate, but the energy of The Novel’s soul (“or whatever it is inside us that might otherwise wither, if not for the life-giving and life-sustaining energy of art,” the foreword states) remains abundant, and wonders where to go, this shared human energy of story and language.
The dream of “Fakes,” stated in the foreword, and then the elephant sharing the room with each of its subsequent forty pieces of short fiction (sometimes not so fictional), is one in which this energy seizes the informational forms that have been suffocating fiction into this marginalization. A dream in which this undirected human energy ends its stultification and forces its way into the contemporary day-to-day, inviting personality into the endless, pulseless scrolls occupying all the desk-jobbers, consumers, drivers, readers, people.
The actual result, in quality-of-reading terms, is—like most compilatory efforts—mixed. Some of the very shortest bits (Chris Bachelder’s “My Beard, Reviewed,” Laura Jayne Martin’s “This Is Just to Say That I’m Tired of Sharing an Apartment with William Carlos Williams,” Jack Pendarvis’ “Our Spring Catalog,” Kari Anne Roy’s “Chaucer Tweets the South by Southwest Festival”) act like McSweeney’s-friendly romps: good for a laugh or two, but nothing more. Matthew Williamson’s “Discarded Notions” is a profoundly hilarious exercise in sympathy. Shields’ “Life Story” is a bit that doesn’t entirely fit, but his prose and concepts are always topnotch. Joe Wenderoth’s excerpts from “Letters to Wendy’s” are strange, beautiful, and endlessly curious—as anyone who’s read his famed book is sure to tell you. George Saunders’ “I CAN SPEAK!” is brilliant, dizzying and the highlight of this book.
The more unfortunate sections (Rob Cohen’s “The Varieties of Romantic Experience: An Introduction,” Mieke Eerkens’ “Vis a Vis Love,” Robin Hemley’s “Reply All”) use slight twists of form to merely mine the same territory dredging up contemporary fiction—namely, the romantic affairs of academics, and the self-awareness they carry (a self-awareness, which, it seems, is not steep enough to improve any of these characters’ behavior; a self-awareness that’s also self-satisfying, and not aimed toward change).
Overall, “Fakes” is just that: an unfortunate clarification of this truer reality plaguing the landscape of writing. While bustling with hope in its fleeting joys and formal dances—and in the bold, righteously edifying frame of its foreword—the collection ultimately fails to get this reviewer much more excited about a writing cohort that seems, on the whole, shy to the intellectual and spiritual demands of great art. (John Wilmes)
“Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, ‘Found’ Texts and Other Fraudulent Artifacts”
David Shields, Matthew Vollmer, editors.
W. W. Norton & Company, 368 pages, $18.95