Here is what we have previously told you about the Brian Alan Ellis and who he writes about: "the blue collar, under-employed denizens who haunt grim, dead-end neighborhoods, bars, and couches, as they try to figure out how to get laid, fix there fucked-up relationships, find work, or care for their damaged family members, all of whom exist in some near dank netherworld, that so many of us scurry by on the way to somewhere else." It may not surprise you as it did not us, that in the new short story collection Failure Pie In A Sadness Face and novel Something To Do With Self-Hate by Ellis, both of which are out, or about to be out, now, Ellis returns to the gritty, or more accurately, nasty, drug-riddled, violence-prone, dilapidated domicile dwelling, damaged family, death baiting, gnarly sexual environs of his previous work. But what the Ellis completists such as ourselves are sure to be oxymoronically delighted by is the level of existential dread that has wormed its way into Ellis' latest work. Take this passage from the story "Haunted Alarm Clock" foe example:
"I figure it's best to just stay in bed gazing into a blemished white ceiling, where things move and take shape. It's not easy to do those things; it's not easy at all-to think, and to move, and to change shape like that. Besides my thoughts are crummy; they eat away at me like cancer, which is what cancer does. And there is a voice. The voice says, "Listen," and I do." (page 8)
Which is to say that Ellis has always had the gift of story and detail, which we would note yet again, are stories and details so few of us know, or at least tell, but these books represent new layers, efforts to get at what the characters are feeling amidst all of this despair and decay. As Ellis writes In Something To Do With Self-Hate:
"You borrow life the day you're born. Then you give it back the moment you die.
A person couldn't keep life forever, even if they wanted to-and who would, especially when there's a shit summer to exist through every year?" (pages 88-89)
Now, whether this is a kind of maturity as a writer, a conscious effort to dig deeper or these feelings had no choice but to work their way to the surface of Ellis' work, we cannot say, we just know that there is a level of insight and self-awareness happening that speaks to us, and elevates the work. We also know, that we look forward to more of this, the hard questions, the pain, even the sense that there may not be much reason to go on at all. And we definitely know, that stories are stories are stories, but it's when they start to sing, that they are sure to change lives.