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Blood, Sweat and Chump Change

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Success Stories

by Kirk Alex

When I started this book I thought of it as a beat novel, but the beats tended to travel and experience new things, while going on in their self-absorbed way. As I read on, I began to think of it as a minimalist work, but minimalism tends to be more abstract, this work is totally grounded in reality, albeit as seen through the eyes of one particular person, who we get to know rather too well as we read on.

This book concerns the life and work of a self-pitying Los Angeles, or La La Land, as he usually refers to it, in a disgusted tone, cab driver. Our hero’s concerns are making enough money to provide a halfway-decent roof over his head, pay his bills, have enough to eat and, hopefully, meet some people he may approve of. To do this he drives his cab and has been doing so for the last couple of decades.

He is not a happy man. His is not a happy existence and most of the people he meets he thoroughly disapproves of, or despises, or hates. There are about three or four people in this book that our hero actually finds he likes and these are the decent people that make his life and job worthwhile. Most of his customers, and these seem to be the only people he interacts with, are subjects for his bile, mostly, we hope, internal.

His greatest hatred he reserves for those people who only want short lifts, because of the economics of the cab business. This is one of the strands of this book that made me think I might be reading a minimalist work; it turns up again and again. If twenty or so pages go by without a tirade against people wanting short rides, we start missing it.

Now I can understand how someone living near the edge of economic existence, as our cab driver constantly tells us he is, can become totally obsessive about it, but this doesn’t necessarily make it interesting to the reader. Kirk Alex makes one person’s thought-process, character and personality completely come alive to his reader. As all the other characters in this work are bit players and rarely on the page for long, and as they are seen purely through the muddy lens of the main character’s bile, it gets incessant, oppressive and, basically, rather a turn off.

The structure of the book is interesting. It consists of short, and one long, prose pieces, alternating with sections of verse, which are the "vignettes" of the title. These "vignettes" are, basically, just prose put into a poetic-looking form, they read like prose. The real difference is that the stories are fact-based whereas the vignettes are idea-based. In a story, he will tell us of an incident, which will be a cause for some annoyance; in the vignette he will just come out straight with the annoyance.

I may be completely wrong in my assessment of this book. It may be written by a nice little spinster living in the Appalachians who is creating the life of a self-pitying LA cabman. On the other hand, it may be actually written by the cabman, describing in accurate detail his life. I believe this to be the truth. He can write, I have no doubt of that, but his subject matter is so limited, and so one-dimensional, I was very glad to get to the end of this book. I hope Kirk Alex does get the pleasure from his writing that he says he does, because he seems to get very little pleasure from anything else in his life.

ISBN 0 939122 26 X
Tucumcari Press, 2004
252pp, paperback
Retail price $11.95

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Review by Chris Williams