On ‘The Quiet Part Loud’ by Tyler Barton

If Tyler Barton had asked me to write a blurb for his chapbook The Quiet Part Loud (which might have been weird considering I’ve only met him once in a quick conversation at AWP, but still I would have said yes) this is what I might have given him:

“Tyler Barton is not fucking around here. You should read this book.”

With these 11 flash fiction gems, I don’t think I can recall a flash chapbook maintaining this level of velocity. This writer’s foot is on the gas pedal from start to finish, ready for any game of chicken. Maybe it’s the phase of life the stories cover: those high school years between freedom and maturity. Those years just after graduation, when you can afford to live fast but are starting to feel the traps. When blooming sexuality is simultaneously liberating and inhibiting. When running away means facing where you go.

He examines this phase of life through a variety of views, all of them effective.

Some are told through in media res: characters stuck in the now. In Stay, Go, there is the couple who uses hotels as performative playgrounds, who feel like they are getting somewhere, but in the end, are only covering the distance of elevators. There is the couple in Whatever’s the Worst that Could Happen We Want whose burning desire is to bottom out. There are the kids from Late-Teens on Trash Night believing that Trash Night is their personal playground but finding out lives can be thrown away too. There is the closed-circuit camera operator more interested in simulating a personal dive than capturing the street crime or accidents he is paid to film. The kids in Mannequins driving around with a stolen mannequin arm because why wouldn’t they? Getting in trouble for the same reason.

Some are told in retrospect: characters looking back on that time of life, only making it out a little bit, never quite to full salvation. In Hiccups Forever, the looking back is done on YouTube. The protagonist watching a clip of his house exploding. Finding beauty in frozen moments. In K, the protagonist looks back on that phase of life in a way that makes it both large and small. Quiet and loud. Real and a dream. Video helps again, in this case, the protagonist’s children forming the bridge between memory and legend. In Glue, there is the memory of an almost lover.

One thing that struck me about these stories is how he smoothly converts premise to Story. How many ideas to do we run through our brains every day? How often do friends tell us we should write a story about this? How often do we try to do that and fail? It’s one thing to think about runaways riding in elevators, subjecting fellow riders to their performance art. It’s another to take it to structure. To make everything fit. To have everything work. To find the Stay, Go and no, you convention and put it in a meaningful stream, these youth gone wild, these boys running far but making it nowhere. To get to this moment:

“We stood on the twenty-fourth story and waited for the bell to ding. For our path to open. For the double row of doors to unfold like a swallow.” (p. 16)

Story is the main engine, but there are moments of poetry tuned perfectly for effect rather than affect. Late-Teens on Trash Night first paragraph is basically a poem:

“Trash night was instinct. Trash night was ours. Trash night with nothing we knew we owned. Trash night because. Fuck a sun. Trash night.” (p. 29)

This leads to narrative flow while also setting up this exit:

“But it’s not trash night anymore, someone said, as we all stared through the window, the gold skull of the sun unburying itself from the mountain.” (p. 33)

None of the stories directly contain the title. The Quiet Part Loud. This uses a convention my favorite rock bands have used, that combination of light and heavy. Quiet and loud. Led Zeppelin. Light and heavy. Taking flight and crashing. Nirvana. Hard, quiet, hard. Chorus verse chorus. It makes me wonder what Barton believes the quiet part is. I think it’s these frozen moments the stories so eloquently capture. The small ones. The space between. The moment right before the house blows up. The awareness. The consciousness of the flow of our lives from slide to slide. Freeze frame. I think it’s the loudness of silence. That split second you realize that the quiet does not mean peace, it means the children in the other room are up to no good. It is a call to action. It is the fast heartbeat. Or maybe it’s the moment right after the house blows up. When the world is so loud our bodies only allow us to receive silence.

I’m pretty sure it’s true: Tyler Barton isn’t fucking around here. I know this is true: You should read this book.

The Quiet Part Loud is available here from Split Lip Press.

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