Tuesday, November 3, 2015

review of The Chintz Age

the chintz age photo: Fostoria Chintz Pitcher pitcher-.jpg
I often think of short story collections as being comparable to a record album or a mixed tape, with each story being like an individual song on the album or tape.  I always wonder about the song order (or story order), I wonder if the album/tape/short story collection has a theme or a concept, I wander how autobiographical each song/story is and how much it reveals about the writer's world vision and philosophy.  I also look for certain hooks, riffs, solos (soliloquys) that either express the writer's creativity or lack thereof.  Albums are interesting because they can be viewed as a whole as well as being viewed in terms of their individual songs - this allows for various things to be going on at different levels all at once.  Thinking of a short story collection in that context means a strong opener is important.  


In Ed Hamilton's The Chintz Age "Fat Hippie Books" is that strong opener.  It introduces a number of themes and motifs that set up further exploration in the stories that follow.  The most central motif that Hamilton introduces in Fat Hippie Books is that of real estate or domicile uncertainty.  In "Fat Hippie Books" a bookstore owner is conflicted over selling out and scrapping his dreams when he comes face to face with reality when his rent is about to be jacked up to $4,000 a month.  This conflict and uncertainty that Greg has over the future home of his bookstore ignites the narrative and it represents a reoccurring theme throughout the entire collection of stories.  In the second story "The Chintz Age" Martha (a former squatter who was responsible for having another squatter booted out of a squat) is now leaving her apartment to her daughter.  In "Westside Hotel" (in which the narrator takes a room in the hotel he works at) a hotel building itself is a central character.  In "Plagiarism," a writer named Theo is getting squeezed out of his domicile and needs to convince Kim (the Sandwich Whore) to let him live with her.  "Rock of the Lower East Side" meanwhile begins with the boarding up of a building that the protagonist once lived in and then decides breaks into in order to find closure to a past relationship and come to terms with his lot in life.  "King of the Underground" is about an elderly man who breaks out of a nursing home and finds a new home in the underground dwelling amongst the mole people.  "Highline/Highlife" is the first person account of a writer's life and times in the Highline building.  And "The Retro-Seventies Manhattan Dream Apartment" revolves around the schemes of three female vultures trying to take over a Manhattan guy's apartment.

With each story involving (in some way) domicile uncertainty, Hamilton is able to explore various themes and schemes that revolve around the relationship people have with their homes - specifically people in New York who are in a set of circumstances that is unique from other American cities.  In nearly every story, Hamilton shows us how a person's relationship to their home can affect their relationship with other people and often cause battles that result in a break or a drifting apart of two people who were once very close.  In some cases the change in these relationships cause Hamilton's character's to completely rethink their entire mission in life, their entire value system.





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