The Story of the Y by Ben Arzate – Book Review

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by Zakary McGaha

Up until now, Ben Arzate has only written shorter works of fiction and poetry. Now, his first novella-length work has been unleashed into the wilds of the small press scene. Although still rather short, The Story of the Y is written in a minimalistic, to-the-point way that makes it play out like a full-length, road trip comedy movie.

The Story of the Y will touch the hearts of all those who have ever collected stuff…in particular, rare/obscure stuff. In this book’s case, there is an album by one Y. Bhekhirst. Said album and artist are actually real…and completely unknown/obscure…but the book’s plot is a fictionalized account of a music writer setting out on an adventure in hopes of interviewing the “real” Y. Bhekhirst.

If that brief synopsis doesn’t make you want to read the book, then you’re probably lame.

The “adventure of the open road” aspect is where The Story of the Y shines, because the road in this case is surreal. Literally anything can happen in this bizarro sort of world, so you never know what to expect. Strangeness is thrown at you a mile a minute…yes, that was a road trip pun…but none of it ever feels annoying or tacky.

Instead, the effect makes you think you’re watching one of those trippy ass cartoons from the late 90s or early 2000s. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson also came to mind, and not just because someone mentioned it in one of the books’ blurbs.

The action, comedy, and forward-moving momentum all conspire to make it hard to stop reading The Story of the Y. I, for one, finished in two sittings (which is saying something because I started it late at night while already running on little sleep).

The characters were another strong point for this book. They were just as funny and memorable as the surreal aspects of the plot. There’s a ghost trapped in a record (my favorite character), a lovable conman/small-time drug dealer dude with a lobster claw for a hand, a couple anarchists, etc.

Some of the prose was a little deadpan (and, as mentioned before, minimalistic) in terms of dialogue, action, etc., but that isn’t necessarily a complaint considering it was a stylistic choice on Arzate’s part.

Overall, the book was a fun, short read that had the same effect on me that most of Arzate’s stories have: they make me want to stay in the universe longer. This one, in particular, could lay the groundwork for a surreal universe of books; we’ll have to wait and see. The characters and situations are interesting and unique enough to easily offer up more material.

Another thing I feel I should note is that Arzate walks the line between seriousness and silliness. Everything going on is insane, yet it’s all believable, compelling, and entertaining. In other words, he’s not writing for gags despite the silly aspects (I, of course, don’t use the word “silly” in a derogatory sense).

I give The Story of the Y 4/5 stars. I’m eager to read more of Arzate’s lengthier work.

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