Book Review:Tables Without Chairs
Literature by Bud Smith and Brian Alan Ellis
Illustrations by Waylon Thornton
Publisher: House of Vlad Productions
First edition (February 3, 2016)
It’s a snow day for me. Snowed in. On April 5th. More snow than we had all winter. More winter than we’ve had all spring. And I’m snowed in. Well, kinda, sorta, or at least pretending to be. It gives me an excuse to spit in Monday’s eye. Just lay around like a fat, lazy slob and read weird, cool books like Tables Without Chairs, a collaborative literary/visual arts mash-up in a mosh pit featuring the verbal musings and pyrotechnics of Brian Alan Ellis and Bud Smith, with quirky illustrations by Waylon Thornton poured like hot sauce over the entire frittata.
The authors describe this lovable little hybrid beast as “totally punk rock DIY” and “basically a mix of prose/tweets/flash fiction/reviews of corner bodegas/instructions for self destruction, etc. etc.” I’d say that sums it up beautifully. It’s a book that defies conventional commentary with conventional language and methods because there is very little about it that is conventional. Throw Waylon Thornton’s twisted monster cartoons into the mix and you have a recipe for literary Jambalaya.
It reminds me of students I’ve had in my classes during my tenure as a public school art teacher (Yeah. I did that) cutting up, pulling pranks, breaking rules, not following directions, but making art that is totally original and better than anything I could do. Those were the kind of kids that kept me in stitches and who could not, should not be constrained and usually really blossomed when allowed to sit together at their own table, as long as I kept an eye on the Exacto knives and anything else that might start a fire or blow up the art room. Coincidentally, all three of these literary miscreants have been, or still are, rock musicians. In many ways, this collaboration is a little like guys wailing away in a garage band with amps cranked to 11, and end by smashing their shit as the jam comes to a screaming, smoking climax.
You can label it anything you like. Some might even call it “Bizarro” or “Lowbrow Art,” which I would personally take as a compliment. Their approach to this collaboration is unstudied and off the cuff, and for me, totally authentic. Whether one chooses to label it as “experimental” or even “avant-garde,” there is no question that it breaks from tradition. It most certainly is a reflection of at least some portion of the American cultural landscape and zeitgeist, and a generation, and it’s not unlike the “artist” R. Mutt flipping the bird at the Society of Independent Artists in 1917 when he submitted his sculpture entitled “Fountain” for exhibition. In actuality, “Fountain” was simply a porcelain urinal and the artist was Marcel Duchamp. It caused an outrage, was rejected by the committee and ruffled the feathers of the art establishment. Isn’t it ironic that Marcel Duchamp and his infamous urinal may be what history has remembered most about that exhibition?
While the book is not thematically linked as such, all three artists share a similar sensibility and styles that are characterized by a sense of the absurd, playfulness, and a wickedly ironic sense of humor. I think Brian Alan Ellis’s portion of the book could be described as more reflective and introspective. Not in an emo sort of way, but in more of a good natured, self deprecating humor kind of way. Much of it is comprised of one liners that could be delivered as stand up comedy. There is a segment devoted to facetious advice for writers that is no less than hilarious. Bud Smith’s writing might be called more narrative. Reading Bud Smith’s pieces is like watching the video feed from a GoPro camera he’s wearing on his head as he goes about his life in New York City and New Jersey. Waylon Thornton’s drawings are inhabited by fantastical characters that are like a combination of the twisted line drawings of Ralph Steadman and Maurice Sendak’s “Where The Wild Things Are.”
An interview with both authors conducted by Sam Slaughter via Facebook Messenger serves as a kind of stream-of-consciousness “Afterword” to the main text of the book. It’s a little like the freewheeling conversation that might take place in an episode of Jerry Seinfeld’s “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” or the improvised dialogue between the slacker/stoners in “Workaholics.”
Tables Without Chairs is raucous, rowdy and irreverent, but beneath its crunchy surface is a soft, chewy center full of sly wisdom and some pretty thought provoking deep shit. It’s a ride well worth taking.
About the Artists
Brian Alan Ellis is the author of A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar: Poems, Observations, Lists, Letters, Notes, Bullshit Aphorisms, and General Tales of Ordinary Crabbiness, three novellas, two short-story collections, and a book of humorous non-fiction. His writing has appeared at Juked, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, DOGZPLOT, Connotation Press, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Literary Orphans, Out of the Gutter, Heavy Feather Review, People Holding, The Next Best Book Blog, Revolution John, Lost in Thought, jmww, Hypertext, Electric Literature, and Atticus Review, among other places. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.
Bud Smith is the author of the novels, F 250 (Piscataway House, 2015), Tollbooth (Piscataway House 2013), and the forthcoming I’m From Electric Peak (Artistically Declined, 2016), among others. Smith writes the column WORK SAFE OR DIE TRYING at Real Pants.
Waylon Thornton is an artist, musician and writer based in Florida. He is the illustrator of Brian Alan Ellis’s novella King Shit, and has been involved in musical projects including Strange lords, Waylon Thornton and the Heavy Hands, Damage Brain, Indian Teeth, Mean Moon and Cara Del Gato. He is currently writing a book with the working title Glue Baby.
Michael Gillan Maxwell is a garden gnome, drunken ukulele basher and visual artist in rural New York and author of The Part Time Shaman Handbook: An Introduction For Beginners.