The thing about Richard Chiem's short stories is that occasionally a sentence will just jump off the page and waggle in front of your eyes for a while, daring you to remember the last time you read something so packed with meaning. In his book You Private Person (Scrambler Books, $12), there's one line in a story called "Animal" about a boxer, mid-fight, fantasizing about what his girlfriend is doing. He "wonders if Sam is at home watching the fight, if she is sitting down or walking around eating food listening to the fight." Then, Chiem writes, "He is more there than he is here even when he gets up and walks to the middle of everything."
Something about the rhythm of the sentence, the "there" then "here" then "everything," without any mitigating commas slopping things up in between, fuses this sentence into something pristine. It's as though the other sentences are built around this sentence on delicate latticework, that this sentence is the engine that provides the energy for the rest of the story.
Chiem's language is just like that—stripped-down and descriptive, as is the style with the young vanguard of literary authors, without ornamental punctuation or authorial intrusion or expository (in the words of the late, great Elmore Leonard) hooptedoodle. Also in line with authors like Tao Lin and Chelsea Martin and Marie Calloway, many of these stories are interested in relationships and feel, at least partially, autobiographical. Here's a passage from "How to Survive a Car Accident":
Crash with the momentum of the cabin and everything behind you. Close your eyes. Duck somehow. The roof above you caves down and down again. The noise is tremendous. Glass shatters and rains in small bits and pieces and falls on top of yours [sic] and your friends' jeans.
One of the three sentences in Chiem's author bio at the end of Person reads, "In 2008, he survived a car accident." And that sudden violence rings like a chorus underneath the language of Person, like a small child repeating a scary story over and over again in order to try to understand it. This recurring threat of violence—occasional references to hungry animals or house fires or bullet wounds—gives the rest of the language a clinging urgency, a desire to make everything count more.
Still, the book suffers from a lack of editing. On page 11, this whopper sticks out like a Band-Aid in a bowl of soup: "There is permission from the hire ups to give an autopsy and information later unveils that the man had died of three natural causes." I can find almost nothing right about that sentence (if you don't follow, try reading it aloud). That's the most glaring example, but the rest of Person still needs a good editor to fix its errors and ratchet the language down flat. Chiem's accidents are too beautiful, and too perfect, to fall prey to mistakes.