420 Characters: Stories

420 Characters: Stories

by Lou Beach

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780547617947
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 12/06/2011
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 176
Sales rank: 232,370
File size: 8 MB

About the Author

Lou Beach’s illustrations have appeared in Wired, the New Yorker, Harper’s Magazine, Los Angeles Times, and many others. He has designed album covers for Weather Report, The Neville Brothers, Blink-182, and many others. This is Beach’s first book of prose.

Read an Excerpt

Author's Note
The stories you are about to encounter were written as status updates on a large social networking site. These updates were limited to 420 characters, including letters, spaces, and punctuation. The author hopes you enjoy them.

THE STORM came over the ridge, a rocket, dropped rain like bees, filled the corral with water and noise. I watched lightning hit the apple tree and thought: “Fritters!” as we packed sandbags against the flood. There was nowhere to go that wasn’t wet, the squall had punched a hole in the cabin roof and the barn was knee-high in mud. We’ll bury Jess later, when the river recedes, before the ground turns hard again.

THE TRAIN pulled into the station. I hesitated before stepping down to the platform, then made my way to the shoeshine stand. I sat, put my foot up on the metal rest. The old man looked up before tending to my shoe. “You new in town?” I told him that indeed I was. “OK then,” he said and began cleaning my loafer. There was a local paper on the chair next to mine. The headline read: fire in hospital melts iron lung.

ZUMA PEDLEY hailed from Lubbock, came to L.A. in ’02 with his guitar, some songs, and an ugly dog. He didn’t think to change the world, wasn’t built that way, but thought music might lessen the burden of those with hearts. He was looking for an army of smiles, but settled for a girl with corn hair and a bungalow in the hills, grew tomatoes. The dog is still ugly.

I AM EXPLORING in the Bones, formations of caves interspersed with rock basins open to the sky. I hear a sound like a turbine as I exit a cave and approach the light ahead. I’m sure it’s a waterfall. What I encounter is a massive beehive, honeycomb several stories high, millions of bees. I crouch down to avoid detection and notice a shift in the tone of the hive’s collective drone. I turn around and see the bear.

SHE TRUSTED grins, they were shot directly from the heart. Whereas smiles, oh, smiles could trick, be untrue, do you harm. Mendacious, twisted with bad intentions, like her father’s, his mouth turned up at one corner like a beckoning finger, pulling his eye down into a squint.

WHILE I WAS AWAY you managed to rust all my tools. How is that possible? Did you dip them in the bathtub like tool fondue? I do not understand. You deny everything but cannot explain the rusted brad puller, pliers, awl, and bucksaw in our bed. “Maybe someone was playing a joke,” you say, then add: “A wet hammer is still a hammer.”

THE GUNNYSACK hangs from the pommel, full of sparked ore. I let Shorty sip from the stream, long neck arching in the sun. There is a ghost in the cottonwood I sit under to reread your letters. It tries to sniff the pressed flowers you sent from the garden in Boston, but the scent is gone. The petals and paper, envelope, all smell like campfire now.

MOUSE AND I lie on our stomachs on the warm and weathered planks. The little bridge spans the stream two feet below and the sun lays its hands on our backs. We drop pebbles into the creek and startle water striders, add to the trove of shining rocks and stones. Preteen bombardiers, we laugh at splashes. Twenty feet away, in another world, our parents and their friends sit on blankets, eat sandwiches and drink beer.

HE CALLED AGAIN. I accepted the charges of course, paid no attention to what he was saying, it’s always the same story. I focused on the background noise — the grunts and rough laughter, the shouting. Once I heard a scream, his receiver clattered against the wall, the line went dead. I picture the wall, men leaning against it, scratching names and pictures into it, waiting for their turn. I try to imagine the smell.
I can’t.

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420 Characters 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
CherylA More than 1 year ago
Lou Beach's "420 Characters" is a mesmerizing read. Beach, bored with the usual Facebook status entries, took his own daily status updates to a whole new level and created a piece of literary art. Beach wows the reader with his amazing ability to paint whole characters each with a unique and delicious story while being constrained to Facebook's allowed 420 characters. The reader will be sure to find something delicious in each tiny narrative. Beach has a unique talent to draw the reader in with his first sentence. I loved every word of this fabulous book. I highly recommend it.
WaxPoetic on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I grabbed this up to read for a Staff Pick for no other reason than its teeny tiny size and bright red cover.I'm shallow. It's cool. Or rather, I'm cool with it.Holy Artistry, was I delighted to flip pages from one well-crafted piece to another. Lou Beach is an illustrator by career and his eye and understanding of image show themselves to great advantage in this collection. The idea of using the 420 character limit of Facebook status updates as one would approach a poetic form brings a sense of consistency to the collection. Also, as a reader, you feel like he is writing for you to read his words - not like it's somehow an accident that you happened to stumble upon his blog or twitter feed or social network page. The audience is considered, and it shows.It's a quick read, and a book that doesn't require itself to be read in sequence when all you want is a shot of deliberate creativity.
fugitive on LibraryThing 5 months ago
THE BOOK REVIEWER tapped at his keyboard beginning with, ¿You know, I got this for free.¿ This had never previously engendered pangs of guilt. But this time his funk increased because he¿d received something exceptional for nada. All he had to do was write his thoughts about it. The book wasn¿t transcendental. Better. It was cool. He wondered if he could emulate the author and write his review in less than 420 charac_____________________________________________"He wondered if he could emulate the author and write his review in less than 420 charac"No. He couldn't.Lou Beach's literary conceit in this collection of 169 prose poems (my description, not the author's) is to restrict his creations to the ostensible limit of 420 characters which happens to be the same limit for posting one's "status" on the Facebook social networking site. As with other restrictive literary formats (e.g., haiku, limerick, sonnet) the author is challenging himself to be as creative as possible within the self-imposed limits. Obviously, the 420 character limit (hence the title of the book) is not as restrictive as some of the classic forms. Additionally, Mr. Beach only limits himself to 420 characters or less, rather than EXACTLY 420 characters. But within this format, he has come up with 169 delightful creations. The tonal range is quite varied, with humor being a common element (e.g., SHOT BY A MONKEY). Some of these separate works rise to being exquisite, such as the opening work THE STORM. Due to the brevity of these works, explication is difficult without giving away the entire point of an individual item. But. The collection covers storms, cowboys, hound dogs, small town girls, wet hammers, stolen Buicks, and much more. This is one of the most entertaining books to read aloud that I've encountered in some time. Beach is a wonderful and evocative word smith.Extra notes: Mr. Beach is primarily noted as a graphic artist who works in collage. Though the book contains 10 illustrations (my advance review copy had only black and white versions - final copy should have "10 full-color plates"), these add little to the verbal experience of the book. This small format book is not a coffee table book. Search the web for Lou Beach and you will easily find his online studio web site with extensive, and higher quality, examples of his visual work. You will also find an online version of this book with about one third of the poems published therein and freely available. If you like them, consider acquiring this work so you can read all of them.I give this a totally subjective 5 stars because I liked it that much. Disclaimer: The reviewer received a free advanced review copy of this book via the Amazon Vine Program.
JackieBlem on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This is pretty far out there, but in a very good way. Lou Beach is an artist whose work has been featured in many publications as well as on several album covers. He's a surrealist in art, and now in writing--this is his first book of prose. It started (and continues--I just 'friended' him to get his daily stories) as Facebook status's, which are limited to 420 characters (including punctuation and spaces). He makes that little bit of space seem like a vast canvas, creating sometimes lyric, sometimes macabre, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking scenarios. He takes you other worlds, other times, and places both physical and emotional that I have no clue about. But I couldn't stop reading them. These stories are both playful and intellectual, with a twist of just plain weird--I think you too will be wishing for more once the last page turns.
suetu on LibraryThing 5 months ago
A review in 420 charactersThese stories began as Facebook status updates, and each was limited to 420 characters¿barely a paragraph. So I began reading, and I was like, ¿What¿s the point?¿ Sure these brief stories were well-written, but there was no big picture. Still, I kept reading, and discovered nurses named Ann O¿Dyne, satires of Beatrix Potter, and openings like, ¿His shoot failed to open.¿ They grew on me!
LindaBW on LibraryThing 5 months ago
I was captured in the book and felt like I was living it. Though the short stories were only a half a page. It was still a very interesting book to read. I would definitely read it again.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
IS IT?!!!& how do the dogs tie in?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It sounds like a good book! I hope it is if i get it!