Book: Got Me Wrong
Author: Kevin Akstin
Type of Book: Fiction, short story collection, gently weird
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It’s not the full-bore weird I generally discuss on this site, but it is one of those books that is neither fish nor fowl. It’s not lit fic but it’s not wholly experimental. Complete inability to classify a work is often a very good sign it is strange in some manner.
Availability: Self-published on the Lulu platform in 2010, you can get a copy here:
Comments: Before I begin this discussion, I want to point something out about this self-published book: it is far better edited than most books that come from small and even large publishers. When I received this book in the mail and saw it was self-published, I had a small twinge of trepidation before reading it. My distaste for the increasingly slap-dash efforts that go into editing books is hopefully well-known by now and I feared I would have to gently tell yet another aspiring writer that I could not discuss his or her book because the editing was so bad all I would be able to do would be to savage it. Sometimes I like savaging books, but most of the time I don’t enjoy it and will not throw the same disgust I lob at say, Edward Lee, at a new and struggling writer. It was such a relief that such concerns did not play out with Akstin’s book. It is impeccably edited. Some of the spacing and indentations in my copy are a bit off but when the grammar is spot on, I can overlook wonky paragraph alignment.
One day I will weaken and stop beating this drum, but reading poorly edited books is a chore. I don’t like it when reading is a chore. Proper editing elevates even the most mundane novels and it certainly helped Akstin’s stories. Akstin’s writing style is not one that I am fond of, but clean writing goes a long way in making even that which is not my cup of tea something I am willing to drink. Though I think these stories would have been more memorable had there been more immediacy, I can also admit that applying my specific tastes to these stories and finding them lacking would be a disservice to Akstin’s goal because even as he writes of miserable, desperate people, he is telling the stories of very disconnected people. Immediacy and emotional depth would have spoiled that necessary disconnection. This book is full of addiction, fault memory, aborted and lost children, and brutal fights, and the muffled way the characters experience these traumas ring as distant as a Carver story but without the minimalism.
When I read this collection, I didn’t feel kinship with the stories. Despite having a glimpse into the lives of strangers, at times intimate looks, I never felt like a voyeur, looking through windows with a telescope. I felt like a clinician peering at slides under a microscope. It’s the distance in the prose that created that feeling. In this collection of 16 stories, Akstin presents a common theme of madness, guilt and a great desire for atonement with a creepiness that permeates all the stories. What made these stories interesting is that even as you feel like a dispassionate observer, there is a maddening yet compelling fuzziness to some of his endings that forces you to interpret the story, further driving home that reading his work is an act of interpretation, not connection. You are looking at the disease cells under a slide, not talking to the patient.
There were a few stories in the collection, as in all short story collections, that worked better than others. To keep this from becoming overlong, I’ll limit myself to the stories I liked best. Be warned: there will be spoilers.