Please allow me to introduce you to an author, a book of short stories, and a publisher with whom you may not be familiar.
The book in question is Big Venerable by Chicago writer Matt Rowan. CCLaP (Chicago Center for Literature and Photography), whose books are available on Ingram, published the collection. If you don’t spend much time in Chicago, you’ve probably never heard of them–hell, even a fair amount of Chicagoans give you a blank look when you mention them–but they are young and ambitious, having only started publishing physical books in 2011 yet adding more paid staff in 2013 to help meet demand for its books, magazine, and other projects. Rowan, too, has the aura of a scrappy underdog. He’s very active in the city’s lit scene, and this isn’t his first publication, but his name isn’t mentioned alongside local luminaries like Samuel Park, Audrey Niffenegger, and Luis Alberto Urrea (yet).
But it should be.
This off-the-wall compilation contains piece after piece where Rowan uses short story conventions to manipulate your expectations of the plot, only to abruptly take the story in a very different direction, often with no explanation or excuses. I repeatedly found myself lulled into a sense of familiarity, then was yanked out of it and sent scurrying back to the previous page in a literary double-take. While the subjects of these stories vary, there are recurring themes of unique American mythologies springing up around childhood traumas both bizarre and ordinary. Another recurring element is Rowan’s uncanny ability to combine realistic patterns of speech with lines you might expect from a profane, Homer Simpson-like relative. Sometimes they are at the end to deliver a one-two punch, while other times they’re buried in the midst of the rambling stories-within-stories his characters spin. These narrators are so unreliable that you start wanting to trust them, and there are glimpses of internal monologues that confirm your very worst suspicions about life’s supporting characters. Some of the stories are also forays into magical realism, but I assure you, only in the most uncomfortable way. That is, unless you think monstrous, verbal bread creatures are cute.
Read Big Venerable. Keep an eye on Matt Rowan. Any writer who messes with readers’ heads this much requires continual attention.
Big Venerable by Matt Rowan (CCLaP Publishing | 9781939987327 | April 13, 2015)