The Chelsea Papers: An ebook experiment

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"If you've ever danced with a confused stranger in a backyard party at 2 a.m. in the rain, you'd like this book"

Editor's note: This review was written from an advanced copy of the book The Chelsea Papers provided by the author to rabble. Since this review was published, the book has remained unpublished in any form.

The Chelsea Papers is hard to summarize in a single-sentence précis, but I’ll take stab: it’s a surrealist erotic novella about sea monsters. It features lovers who deal in metaphor, who live in days packed with miracles and fear. And now: a long excerpt.

I had a dream two nights ago about a skeleton shark. It was just the bones his bones and it swam towards me as I slept, sweating out the misery soup I made to forget about you when I was mad at you. Anyway, I woke up and it bit into the air before my head, premature, then dissolved into infinite baby powder as I screamed it landed all over my crisp peach bed sheets. The skeleton shark tried to trick me into death’s after dinner theater but my scream shattered its deranged threat.

After a day in the sun puttering in the garden and making large replenishing salads it began to rain.

“I can’t swim anymore. I’m going to drown!” Chelsea screamed from a nightmare, waking up and clawing at the sheet, knocking over her mason
jar of lemon water, and with a passing car’s headlights glare Benjamin
caught sight of her ocular ammunition, those tense green eyes bore through the dark he was trying to channel. “I love you,” she said, partially swallowed by the blanket, head cradled in the thick pillow, watched tiny feet dangle and wave, perhaps to the bathtub, before covering them up completely with the thick duvet. He loved her back, saying the words softly into her neck as he bit into her trapezium muscle.

Chelsea could hear her tentacles growing under the warmth of their gelled bodies. She could smell the cranberry juice drying on her chest. She could feel their thoughts, how they wanted inside Benjamin’s mouth forever. Even if she had control over them, it was part of nature’s course to seek out other forms. To touch others. The weeks passed, tasks separated them, and the waffling weather altered moods.

See, told you it was hard.

Chelsea is a British-born expatriate in Toronto, full of piss and vinegar, and her boyfriend Ben, while duller and more subdued, rivals Chelsea’s out-thereness in his own way. Moore describes his book as a love story about a couple who come from different worlds, and says you can read it as “a species divide, land lover versus water-logged,” he says.

You can also read it from 10 other angles, at least half of which will confound and frustrate. While it’s pretty evident that Moore can forge a blade-sharp metaphor (or 10), the diffuse narrative and unorthodox structure of the book will likely alienate seekers of spare, architectural prose. Moore acknowledges that much of the Toronto literary community won’t get his work. “If you've ever danced with a confused stranger in a backyard party at 2 a.m. in the rain, you'd like this book,” he says.

The editors at Burner Magazine must be the ideal people to host a backyard rain dance, for they decided to publish Moore's work. Burner Magazine fittingly enough eschewed traditional publishing to release The Chelsea Papers as an ebook. The editors weren't available for comment, but the format seems liberating for Moore’s work in terms of content aesthetic as well as marketing.

By opting for an ebook, Moore dodged the standard two-year wait that often accompanies a small press publication, ensured that all sales revenues flowed to him and Burner, and oh, managed to get distributed by Amazon and Chapters anyway. But his choice of format is driven by content, for his next book, Savage, is a physical book, aimed at a broader reading public than The Chelsea Papers, which will inevitably self-select a niche audience.

According to Moore, we’re in the post-retail era of books in Canada; let the ebook riots begin! He says the possibilities for interactive texts, media, shopping and bedside video diaries seem endless. “I mean you can have a cooking show or cookbook integrated with a novel.” The Chelsea Papers, for instance, is accompanied by a soundtrack featuring several Canadian bands. (The songs are also available on YouTube.)

But the chatter about formats perhaps detracts from the overarching purpose of Moore’s writing. “A student at [a] class where I spoke recently asked if I did drugs because she said, when I read to the class, she felt very high. To me that is what writing should do, it should get into your blood.” Even those don’t get Moore’s writing will admire a writer who measures writing in terms of blood, rather than market, penetration.—Niranjana Iyer

Niranjana Iyer is a Hamilton-based writer and a regular contributor to rabble.ca's book lounge.

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