Two-artist sin­gles are a long­stand­ing tra­di­tion in indie rock, giv­ing two bands or per­form­ers the chance to increase expo­sure and decrease costs by shar­ing space on the same slab of vinyl. Tables Without Chairs #1 is a book that embraces the same aes­thet­ic, with a pair of writ­ers — Brian Alan Ellis and Bud Smith — shar­ing space between the same set of cov­ers as they spin tales in their own dis­tinc­tive styles. The results are fast-mov­ing, fun­ny in a quirky way and offer an intrigu­ing alter­na­tive to the usu­al self-con­scious lit­er­ary pos­es struck by many a young author.

TabWOC-covEllis’s half of the book is devot­ed to two pieces. The first is enti­tled “Sexy Time In The Spook House, Oh Yeah!” and it’s a kind of punk novel­la. It’s told in first per­son style by a pro­tag­o­nist who is smart­ing over a breakup with a wom­an whose love he finds con­sum­ing and whose rejec­tion sends him spi­ral­ing into an abyss of self-loathing. As he gath­ers his courage for a face-off with this heart­break­er, he rumi­nates on the wreck­age of his roman­tic career — illus­trat­ed via a series of punchy, pithy anec­dotes — before the sto­ry cul­mi­nates in a reunion that chal­lenges what has come before.

Such a tale could be a wal­low in self-pity and self-indul­gence but Ellis dodges those traps with lean, acidi­cal­ly wit­ty prose that com­bi­nes shock val­ue and bursts of flow­ery prose to cre­ate a style that is poet­ic yet com­bat­ive. The final sec­tions show a sense of sto­rycraft that deploys a plot twist in a way that not only sur­pris­es the read­er but chal­lengers their atti­tudes and obser­va­tions.

The sec­ond inclu­sion is a bar­rage of lists and free-asso­cia­tive one-lin­ers that Ellis has enti­tled “Ha-Ha, Sad Laughter.” You could call it an exam­ple of soul-bar­ing as stand-up rou­tine, with Ellis pok­ing fun at his writ­ing career: top­ics include bat­tles with lazi­ness, the unique char­ac­ter­is­tics of work­ing in the avant-lit­er­a­ture world and liv­ing a low-bud­get life to pur­sue his muse. He’s fun­ny while also being inci­sive and the self-dep­re­cat­ing approach he takes helps it avoid casu­al cru­el­ty or navel-gaz­ing.

Bud Smith’s por­tion of the book takes a dif­fer­ent style, more nat­u­ral­is­tic and obser­va­tion­al as it presents a series of short sketch­es that focus on its first-per­son protagonist’s work­ing class lifestyle in the big city. It varies between nice­ly detailed accounts of apart­ment liv­ing and list-style pieces that offer such unique entries as a diary of reviews for the cor­ner bode­ga.

Smith’s prose is min­i­mal­ist but keys in on the details nec­es­sary to make his writ­ing atmos­pher­ic. His sto­ry­telling might look effort­less but it gives you a real sense of how the pro­tag­o­nist gets through his days by keep­ing the big wor­ries of life at bay, dig­ging into the unique slices of life going on around him and tak­ing a dry­ly humor­ous approach to the mun­dane yet nec­es­sary parts of his dai­ly rou­tine (the bode­ga diary is par­tic­u­lar­ly wit­ty and illu­mi­nat­ing in this regard).

Tables Without Chairs #1 is also fleshed out by illus­tra­tions by Waylon Thornton that give an appro­pri­ate­ly imag­i­na­tive yet lo-fi visu­al cohe­sion to the over­all pack­age. His work uti­lizes a lot of fan­ta­sy and hor­ror motifs drawn in a Daniel Johnston-ish style. His illus­tra­tions add to the book’s odd­ball charm and dove­tail nice­ly with the rough and ready sen­si­bil­i­ty of the authors.

In short, Tables Without Chairs #1 offers a lot of grit­ty cre­ativ­i­ty in a fast-mov­ing, unpre­ten­tious pack­age. Like a good two-artist sin­gle, its con­tents have a live­li­ness and imme­di­a­cy that will appeal to those who want to look beyond the main­stream for their lit­er­ary kicks.