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Find Your Favorite Line In Piano Rats

By Maggie Hellwig in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 26, 2012 6:00PM

Book Cover done by Franki Elliot's favorite artist, Shawn Stucky.

The 72 pages of Franki Elliot's first book, Piano Rats, contains most of the landmarks of a debut piece. The collection is written with the passion and fervor that an author reserves only for very personal work. Elliot's deep breaths of devotion on every page yield some great lines. Her words bear the minimalism of Hemingway and the brutishness of Bukowski. And while there is visible room for improvement in her work, this is a book that you'll want to read with a pen. There are sections that beg to be scribbled down on a torn piece of notebook paper and carried around just so that you can feel their intensity in your back pocket. As motivation:

But today I read a sign at the bookstore on Milwaukee,


For loneliness:

"Every time I look at a clock at this time I make a wish. Do you want to know what I wish for?"

What do you wish for?

"A Champion."

Or, for sass:

You can't wear lovestruck at the same time as cuntstruck:

It's unbecoming.

Elliot has found a distinct voice, one to rally and revel with; it is strong and self-confident. Yet the young author's technique is slightly off-kilter. The 44 brief passages in Piano Rats, which the author refers to as "stories," display harsh fragments of life. The topics are shaved down to their bare bones; there is no trivial information in Elliot's stories and all pieces are integral to the moment.

The longer pieces read more like prose: here she is more verbose and lends her pen to more description. In "With An Obsessive Compulsive," she paints a very elaborate portrait of a man morbidly aware of bacteria, and in "Your Latest Composition," she takes her time to describe a pretentious individual who abandons her at a bar. With her smaller pieces (such as the somber mortuary of relationships: "Not Returned,"), Elliot teeters on the edge of poetry with rhythmic lines and word play. We are not entirely sure if her choice of genre was an authoritative one, or if she felt simply more comfortable writing sans classification. Either way, it can be discerned that these "stories" are very important to her, and it is imperative to her that she has a reader to interpret them.

The overall tone of Rats is harsh. Elliot unleashes a wave—sometimes a tsunami—of adult melancholia remedied by the nostalgic wisdom of youth. In her world, there are many extremes. Fleeting characters are either very sensitive or hardened to jaded stone, insane or insanely sure of themselves, obsessive compulsive or completely untethered. They all arrive on the scene already complex, and command our sympathies immediately. It occurred to us only after reading the book that there are very few uplifting tales in Elliot's little book of vignettes. For, while immersed in a world of rugged realities, the reader is apt to smile often. Elliot has a way of reminding us to take in the ugly with the same grace as the lovely:

We just have to let God laugh in our faces

because bad things aren't necessarily not beautiful

No, melancholy is just beauty of a different flavor.

There are some of you who will not like this book. For the reader who wants a full-fledged story with a plot line, a conflict, and solid resolution: this book will aggravate you. But for the reader who can enjoy the sharp colors, the cutting emotion, and the absurdity of the fleeting moment: you and Piano Rats will be solid pals.