420 Charactersby Lou Beach
Within this collection of miniature stories, entire worlds take shape—some like our own, some hallucinatory fairylands--populated by heartsick cowboys, random criminals, lovers and drifters. In a dazzling narrative constellation, Beach’s characters contend with the strange and terrible and beautiful in life, and no outcome is certain. Begun as a series
Within this collection of miniature stories, entire worlds take shape—some like our own, some hallucinatory fairylands--populated by heartsick cowboys, random criminals, lovers and drifters. In a dazzling narrative constellation, Beach’s characters contend with the strange and terrible and beautiful in life, and no outcome is certain. Begun as a series of Facebook status updates, 420 Characters marks a new turn in an acclaimed artist and illustrator’s career, and features original collages by the author.
"They are minimalist in word count only, since Beach’s imagination ranges as widely as his protagonists….Just because a story is short, even really, really short, doesn’t mean it can’t contain multitudes…the cumulative effect is one of gravity, humor and conviction….some of the experiments produce surprising and beautiful results."
—New York Times Book Review
"A dreamy collection of mini stories and illustrations..."
—New York Magazine
"Marvels of economy."
—New York Times T Magazine
"Beach has managed to pack each tiny tale with vivid descriptions and narratives that are at once funny, sad, and bracing."
"Beach has conjured self-contained, snow-globe-like worlds that are, like the dog curled up by the staircase, perfect."
"These thought-provoking vignettes from illustrator Lou Beach are funny, poetic, touching, sexy, twisted—scene-and-character sketches replete with bumpkins, criminals, angry teens, truckers, boozers, bimbos, animals, and sentient objects. Best savored one or two a day."
"[Beach's] ability to capture complex scenes in just a few strokes makes his first book of fiction a keeper . . . Every story here is sharpened to a point."
—The Observer's Very Short List
"It’s rare to find a book as seamless and fascinating as Lou Beach’s 420 Characters."
"From the great collagist and graphic designer Lou Beach comes a mischievous montage of a different sort: a tiny book filled with tiny stories . . . tragic, absurd, and sweet by turns, each snip of a story is a gem, able to hold its own against more standard-length fare."
—Flavorwire (A Must-Read Pick for December)
"Bizarre and awesome."
"This charming stocking stuffer proves just how much "Beach injects these tidy depictions with...boundless, michievous imagination... Unforced, thoughtful, occasionally profound...sly, surprising, playful, puzzling--and great fun."
"Eclectic, vivid moments in time, delivered in the exacting limits of social media...bold, impulsive flash fiction... These moments are...theatrical, instantly recognizable and slide off the tongue with the cacophony of a Tom Waits riff. An adroit experiment that marries linguistic restraint to literary cool."
"Sharp and driven by a droll wit...endearing and estranging...a sharp and wonderfully funny debut...these stories add up to something wonderful."
"Renowned for his intricate collages, a suite of which are reproduced here in full color, Beach brings his great gift for unexpected juxtapositions to his brief yet richly evocative and crisply visualized tales. Linked by reappearing characters, these microdramas of malaise and desire have an outlaw element, wry humor, frissons of creepiness, and bursts of beauty. Drifting in time, Beach’s potent little stories tell of love and family gone horribly wrong, drunkenness and desperation, dreams and wonder . . . Beach’s concentrated improvisations are emotive, disarming, and resplendent."
"Holy shit! Those are great! ... May they last a thousand years and be chiseled in stone."
"Lou Beach uses words with no sympathy for the reader. He beats us senseless with his brilliance."
"[Beach] understands narrative in a deep way."
—J. Robert Lennon
"Lou Beach is full of wit, mirth and intelligence."
—Gary Panter, Emmy Award-winning author of Jimbo in Purgatory
"In only a few sentences, he remarkably manages to evoke character, milieu and mood."
—Joe Frank, Peabody Award-winning radio personality
The New York Times Book Review
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.34(w) x 8.06(h) x 0.68(d)
Read an Excerpt
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.
Meet the Author
Lou Beach’s illustrations have appeared in Wired, The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. He has designed album covers for Weather Report, The Neville Brothers, Blink 182, and many others. This is his first book of prose.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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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.
IS IT?!!!& how do the dogs tie in?
It sounds like a good book! I hope it is if i get it!