scarecrow reviews


Robert Woodard - Heaping Stones.

Heaping Stones - Robert Woodard
Burning Shore Press, 2005


Heaping Stones is the first release from Long Beach publishing house Burning Shore Press, and as a statement of intent it couldn’t be much stronger. On one level this is the story of the author, (anti) hero in his own book adrift in a world of booze, lost loves and mundane work. Woodard’s brand of California existentialism is nowhere near as dry and academic as the term sounds – Heaping Stones is a dizzying onslaught of drunken philosophizing, frenzied sex and literary discussion, all served with a healthy dose of angst and inner turmoil. In short it’s a uniquely brilliant and exciting book.

The book is also the story of 3 women: Maggie - whose very absence becomes integral to the story, Veronica - who makes herself a stage upon which writer can act out his own feelings of self-loathing, and Rachael - the young artist who is placed into the role of savior. The sex – and there’s plenty of it – is rendered with an enthusiasm and lust that pervades all aspects of the work: one moment, the cunt of one girl is lovingly described, pubic hair by pubic hair almost, and just as quickly the attention can turn to a dissection of Hamsun's The Ring is Closed without losing pace. The thing that jumps off the page is the author’s own wonderment at the fundamentals of life: women, art and intoxicants (here, cold beer). There’s something of Kerouac’s wild-eyed embracing of beatitude in Woodard’s prose, as well as the lustful degeneracy of Bukowski.

Writing is the central theme here, and most of the pain in the book stems from the pain of creation itself: the struggle to remain true to oneself in a society geared towards crushing the fight and the originality out of all of us. As Woodard’s hero wrestles with his own writing we slowly realize that the real poetry being put down is right here, on the page.
You find yourself caught up in the pace of it all as sentences start to fly past you and (during one section in particular) traditional punctuation is thrown out of the window altogether in the rush to sing-scream a thousand emotions all at once, a nine page single sentence chapter breathlessly concludes “I might just deserve to be alive after all”

As you can see, this book is more complex than it might at first seem. Woodard has started with the conceits of a more traditional roman a clef and produced something very different, something which borders on prose poetry at times but which is, at heart, a self-portrait. Unlike most writers who have attempted such a thing, Woodard offers us a very human portrayal, with the blood, shit, sweat and imperfections not only included, but held up to the light and examined with glee. The unflinching honesty of the writing put me in mind of Henry Miller at times.

The next book on Burning Shore Press will be Dan Fante’s play Don Giovanni and with books like this on their roster it’s hard not to feel definite excitement about what the future holds for this radical new publishing house.

Tony O'Neill © 2006.

In a previous life Tony O’Neill played keyboards for bands and artists as diverse as Kenickie, Marc Almond and The Brian Jonestown Massacre. After moving to Los Angeles his promising career was derailed by heroin addiction, quickie marriages and crack abuse. While kicking methadone he started writing about his experiences on the periphery of the Hollywood Dream and he has been writing ever since. His autobiographical novel DIGGING THE VEIN will be published in Feb 2006 by Contemporary Press, in the US and Canada. Wrecking Ball Press plan to release a UK edition Summer 2006. He lives in New York where he works a variety of odd jobs and writes.

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