One of these days, people will utter Jennifer Robin's name in the same breath as Walt Curtis or Katherine Dunn. Among a self-selecting set of Portland literati, Robin's ecstatic, melodramatic readings are already legendary. No one comes close to her prowling theatrics.
Her new book, Death Confetti (Feral House, 220 pages, $19.95), lingers at the crossroads where memoir, creative nonfiction, bizarro reality, and stream of consciousness meet. It reads much as she speaks—full of pregnant pauses and poetic descriptions of a life lived in run-on sentences that end in ALL CAPS epiphanies.
Though the book's fragmented Portland vignettes aren't arranged chronologically, Robin's own story begins with a reclusive childhood as the daughter of a paranoid shut-in mother. Raised instead by overprotective grandparents, she rebelled with a thirst for the exotic.
The stars in Robin's stories are invariably misfits as well—the "pickers, punks, and transit ghosts" of Portland. Robin takes in banal scenes from bus stops, Goodwills and stale apartment hallways, with an object and fashion fetish that borders on psychometry.
In Robin's Portland, methheads lurk on every corner, and damaged characters writhe on the page. The obese, the publicly flatulent, and old women with sunken faces share top billing. The characters remain nameless and fleeting in memory, just as they were for the few moments she shared with them.
For a local, there is joy in reading an abstract passage and solving its riddles. In a chapter titled "Ouija/Bored" Robin writes: "The minute you walk in, you sense something institutional about the place. The pitted concrete floor, the high ceilings, the strips of unadorned fluorescent lighting, the smell…like a hamster cage filled with spilled shaving cream…these are the qualities that make you feel as if you have descended into a zone outside of space as we know it." Two paragraphs deeper, I recognized the Goodwill bins, though it's not clearly identified until paragraph 15.
Non sequiturs and tangents abound, but the prose remains razor-sharp. Each vignette spans a page or three, the perfect length for the attention-deficit-challenged or a crosstown TriMet ride. Postmodern writer Mark Leyner's kitchen-sink approach to unlikely juxtaposition intersects with Henry Miller's escape-velocity freak-outs.
Though it's not for the sensitive at heart, Death Confetti connects the dots between Old Portland nostalgia and the city's bullet-train future collision course. Robin watched it all go down, and she took notes. NATHAN CARSON.
GO: Jennifer Robin is at Powell's Books on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., on Monday, June 13. 7:30 pm. Free.