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Rec Room: Rebecca Bates: A Common Pornography

May 26, 2010


Rebecca Bates.jpgSometimes I’ll walk into a bookstore, run my fingers along a shelf, and buy the first book whose cover takes my fancy (I know, I like to take risks). While this is often disastrous, inevitably I’ll stumble upon a work that reinforces the art of literary risk taking. This is how I discovered the recent memoir A Common Pornography, which details author Kevin Sampsell’s upbringing in suburban Washington as he navigates between major sexual insecurity and the rise and fall of New Wave and punk music.

The book is comprised of short vignettes, almost like flash fiction, each one devoted to a particular moment or person significant to Sampsell’s youth. It reads like a kind of private journal. Sampsell’s voice is na├»ve, almost embarrassingly so. But somehow, that doesn’t turn us off as he falls in and out of love (multiple times), distrusts his father (multiple times), and obsesses over football statistics.

And while it may be tempting to see the book as just another quirky, coming of age tale by just another aging hipster (out of the Northwest, no less), be forewarned. A Common Pornography is Sampsell’s personal catharsis, his attempt to purge himself of family secrets that emerged after his father’s death. It’s an exercise in mourning, showing us how to grieve the loss of places we love and hate–and the people that come with them.


Bio: Rebecca Bates is Guernica‘s blog intern.

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