Book Review

Book Review: Pub crawl novella is entertaining, realistic

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Lanesborough native Zachary Lipez's debut "131 Different Things," has been described as an "inventive novella." The former Simon's Rock student and Poetry Night organizer at Helsinki Cafe in Great Barrington, collaborated with photographer Nick Zinner and author/editor Stacy Wakefield on the project. The three artists have collaborated on four previous books, most recently "Please Take Me Off the Guest List."

The book is inventive, but the whole package works so well, it reads very naturally as one work. The three parts: the writing, the photography and the layout, all come together as a balanced artwork.

This is an entertaining pub-crawl saga like no other. The motivation for every bar stop in this New York City odyssey is the noble pursuit to restore true love. Sam, a favorite bartender and photographer at Pym's Cup, gets reliable information that Vicki, the supposed love of his life, has stopped attending AA meetings and is out drinking. While this may seem like a cause for concern to most, in Sam's case it is an opportunity that motivates him after "a year, two months, and a week" of having been separated from Vicki to finally get out on the town, track her down and declare his love, accepting nothing but complete reunion with her. But tracking her down proves to be almost completely elusive when she stays just one step ahead at every known bar she haunts. It soon feels like there are 131 things keeping them apart.

Francis, Sam's loyal friend and part-time musician, maintains constant contact through a network of texts with people who have just seen Vicki. Everyone was "taking it to the hoop," for Sam. All except Aviva, Sam's estranged wife. The variety of different bar cultures he and his loyal friend navigate is astounding. It is entertaining to meet all of the characters, sometimes at Sam and Francis' expense, of course.

There are as many bars for every lifestyle as there are places to go in the city. Nightlife in New York is an exotic experience and Lipez creates the scene nicely, accompanied alternately with chapters of photographs of real-life bars at night from around the world by Zinner that match and compliment the narrative perfectly. The whole scene is generously and vividly laid out with wit, clear-eyed prose and a wonderfully savvy humor by Lipez.

Zinner plays guitar in the three-time Grammy-nominated band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. His photography alternates with Lipez's narrative chapters expressive of the stories and beyond, with colorful, artistic pictures that get inside nightlife from various cities in the U.S. and around the world. The photographs are intimate, visually arresting and most often capturing real people involved in a wide array of nightlife activities. His photographs of architectural forms or indistinct figures set against natural light connect and reflect the personal and improvisational nature of place and time. The photography works interdependently with the written story to enhance the imagined ideas conjured in reading with a remarkable collection of powerfully charged images.

This book captures the angst, the joys and the struggles with love and career that young people experience. Lipez uses authentic language of the pop culture and the bar scene to create a raw, often very funny, and certainly realistic story.

Colin Harrington is the events manager at The Bookstore & Get Lit Wine Bar in Lenox. He welcomes reader comments at charrington686@gmail.com.

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