Majnun Ben-David

Phrases I Liked: Brian Oliu

Periodically I will read some short stories by a contemporary author and post a few of my favorite phrases from them.

This week's author is Brian Oliu, who teaches at the University of Alabama and whose writing sits somewhere in between fiction and non-fiction, defying easy categorization. Lyrical non-fiction might be the least bad label for what he does. Better yet, go check out his website for yourself --- it's got a well-organized collection of his pieces and interviews, plus a nifty design to boot. Oliu was also the guest editor of SunDog Literature's recent "Games" issue, which is worth a read.

Now for some phrases I really liked in his work ...

"Your face, a mask -- smooth as the day you were born and as hard as the stone on the ring that I am wearing, the ring that allows me to pretend that this does not hurt as much as it once did"
Boss Battle: The One With the Long Neck, in elimae here

"My fingers were too large for scissors, for knives—knuckles swollen from mistiming: a car door shut early, a mask where a heart should have been, my clothes taking me with them like a hand held through a crowd of strangers—we move as the ghosts sway."
Ghosts 'n Goblins, in Corium Magazine here

"What you have heard is true: there is nothing left here but salamanders and movement."
Gradius, in SmokeLong Quarterly here

"I’ll tell them about the fractions and the fractures and the fractals that came pouring out, jagged edges found on black and white contrasted X-Rays, mouths looking like poorly split open fish, peaks and valleys, spikes and gaps."
The Beautiful Game, in Thievesjargon here

"The walls of this city will not hold us safely in their arms: if these walls could talk they would say nothing before they turned to fragments."
Chris Jericho and How the World Ends, in TriQuarterly here

"My mother tells me I could have been killed. She wants to know why I don't have a basement. I could tell her that the soil here is too malleable; it's why they build on cement blocks, it's why the trees lean, it's why the town is sliding into the river. I tell her I will do better next time."
Of This I Am Certain, in PANK here

Much of Oliu's work is inspired by video games. I didn't want to say that at the beginning, because I was afraid people would get the wrong idea, like they are some kind of Pac-Man fan fiction. Not at all. In fact, given Oliu's lyrical style, the connection with video games is not all that obvious to non-gamers, or at least it wasn't to me. You should really read his work and/or interviews to get a better sense of it, but if I were to take a stab at characterizing it, I'd put it this way: how the world is represented in video games perhaps tells us more about the world than we may think.

Tara Laskowski, interviewing Brian Oliu for SmokeLong
here, said, "I loved this story even though I didn't understand what it was about. The rhythm and the language captivated me ...." I had a similar reaction to many of Oliu's stories, though I did feel like I understood what some of them were about. Go see for yourself.

Disclaimer: I have no connection with Mr. Oliu. Thanks go to
Berit Ellingsen for introducing me to his work.

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