Book Review : Brian Alan Ellis - Failure Pie in a Sadness Face (2017)
Florida-based author Brian Alan Ellis is a creature of the internet. He writes short and fragmented story loosely based on pop culture and his own life. Sometimes they're not longer than a Facebook post. I enjoy his work because it shows a playful self-awareness that's hard to find in the age of social media and constantly draws cultural references that bridge different eras together. Ellis' new collection Failure Pie in a Sadness Face is another strong entry in the constantly evolving journal of a thirty-something trying to survival the internet, which makes me both exquisitely entertained and fearful for his mental health.
Failure Pie in a Sadness Face is a collection of twenty-five short stories and aphorisms. Twenty of them weren't previously published and Ellis added five of his personal favorites. It's a much more serious and personal collection than previously released A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar, which I loved. This one deals with more social situations outside unmediated by Ellis' relationship to pop culture. My favorite was Rape Distance, which I had already read, where the narrator (one of Brian Alan Ellis' multiple fictional body doubles) is trying to figure out what is the appropriate distance to walk behind a woman not to freak her out. I loved it because I found myself in a similar situation many times. The narrator is trying to make a perfect stranger feel comfortable, resulting in a convoluted argument with himself.
Some people will find the writing of Brian Alan Ellis to be self-obsessed. In a certain way, it kind of is. Ellis' self-obsession is born out of disconnection and loneliness, though. And while most lonely bastards end up mistaking their thoughts for the word of God and opening a meninist YouTube channel, Ellis uses his to share some of his fears about himself. In What I know About Clem, he begins the story by stating things he know about a co-worker of his and by the time it ends (merely two or three pages later), he's recognizing himself in Clem and tries to distance himself from the sorry old bastard. The ALF Period is one of the most gut-wrenching piece in Failure Pie in a Sadness Face. The narrator in this one tries to escape his failures in old episodes of ALF, yet finds no redemption in the mischievous alien. He is constantly brought back to his own shortcomings through the parallels he draws to his life.
So, I guess what makes Brian Alan Ellis more interesting than you run-of-the-mill white guy writing about his life is that he doesn't try to draw a greater meaning from it. He doesn't see a potential to live up to and doesn't feel entitled to a better situation. In Watch Me Tweet About Being Human Garbage and Chill?, he openly rejects this greater meaning which has become a religion in the age of social media. In A Real Boyfriend, he rejects the idea of the happily ever after and its silly tropes that everybody takes for granted. If there's any conclusion to draw from Failure Pie in a Sadness Face, it's that Brian Alan Ellis doesn't want what everybody else is after. He despises the rat race and prefers self-aware misery to it. While I fully endorse this criticism of rose-tinted 2017, I wonder why would it have to be one or the other? Isn't there a sideways solution to society? I mean, how depressed are you, bro?
Failure Pie in a Sadness Face is another enjoyable collection of fragmented thoughts by Brian Alan Ellis. His obsessions with cultural mementos from two decades ago is as fascinating as it's even been. If pop culture is the connective tissue of a society raised on mass media, the world of Brian Alan Ellis is a forgotten subterranean kingdom that lies under a metropolitan city. It's filled with wonders from the past and problems from the present. Ellis' books are becoming can't miss literature for me. Failure Pie in a Sadness Face is a tiny bit of a bummer compared to A Series of Pained Facial Expressions Made While Shredding Air Guitar, but it'll bum you out for the right reasons. However I look at it, it's tough not to like this book.