This Too Can Be Yours: Beth Lisick, paperback, 140 pgs By Sean Carswell

Beth Lisick is spoken word artist who has opened for Lydia Lunch and Exene and toured the US on her own, so when I started to read this book, I expected it to have that quirky, too-artsy sense that spoken word artists tend to have. Happily, I was surprised to find that none of those elements exist in Lisick’s stories. In fact, every time I expected Lisick to be predictable, she did something unpredictable. I guess that’s what amazed me most about this book. But first, some basic details on This Too Can Be Yours.

This Too is a collection of short stories, most of which are set in northern California, specifically the Bay Area. Lisick’s characters tend to be urban, though not the slick, cynical urban stereotype that you get used to reading about. Instead, they’re lost or naïve, on the verge of a nervous breakdown or close to realizing that their lives have taken a drastically wrong turn. They’re bumbling into situations without enough self-awareness to know they’re fucking up. They’re wise enough to know that the world’s a cruel place, but strong enough to keep trying. They’re every bit as diverse as the people you pass on the street every day. Lisick has a real talent for getting into people’s psyches, and this makes her characters seem like people you know. All of the stories are told in the first person, so it would seem as if all the characters would be in similar situations, but Lisick gives her characters a range of voices. In one story, you’ll hear a performing artist tell of his failed mime experience, in another story, you’ll hear an aging suburbanite tell her story about taking off to San Francisco for a weekend, ostensibly in hopes of visiting her daughter. Lisick handles all of these voices well, even when she’s writing in a male voice. Her stories are convincing and fun, and she manages to get to depth of a character’s life and emotions pretty quickly.

I enjoyed all of the stories, but I definitely had my favorites. “Aerosol Halo” is about a young woman who becomes the traffic girl for a local SF television station, and gets swept up in small-time fame. Lisick captures this young woman’s enthusiasm and selective vision very well. “Back to the Future” is a funny story about a woman going to her ten-year high school reunion, and even though it’s the last story in the book, and even though, at this point, I thought I knew Lisick’s writing well enough to know what was going to happen, there was a cool twist at the end. “We Call It Blog” is about a “weblebrity” writing about a date he had with woman who is a fan of his web journal. The character is so vain and clueless that he’s ripe for ridicule, but Lisick holds off just enough to make him as human as he is absurd. And on and on. There’s a ton of good stories in this book. Too many to list individually, but they’re diverse and interesting and really fucking cool. –Sean Carswell (Manic D, PO Box 410804, SF, CA94141)