BEAUTIFUL WORDS: some meanings and some fictions too by Nik Perring is unlike anything I’ve ever read.
It is not a collection of flash fiction, though the story of Alexander and Lucy runs through the heart of it. Nor is it a dictionary, yet it’s arranged alphabetically and includes definitions. It’s not a journal of reflection, though the reader finds out along the way, what brings each word to this publication. And it’s not an art book, though it’s lushly illustrated.
When handed around literary-minded friends it was the catalyst for much ooo-ing and ahh-ing. Shared with old friends it was concluded to be better than chocolates for a birthday present.
It looks, feels and smells like a picture book (minus the smears of snot and vegemite). It’s also a little like the TARDIS! But it’s neither of these either.
So what is Beautiful Words?
Beautiful Words is a literary installation that inhabits the space between the reader’s hands, heart and head. Because of this it can’t help be bigger on the inside (and grow with each immersion). It’s less something you want to read (see Dan Powell’s review) and more something you want to imbibe, slowly, over and over again. Or perhaps be wrapped in, like your favourite set of cotton sheets.
It is ambitious, audacious and absolutely engaging.
There are the 26 words—lexigraphical gems—accompanied by their meanings: crazy words ‘wiffle’, every-day words ‘clasp’, exotic words ‘effleurage’ and totally left-of-centre-words ‘Dravidian’. They are attended by Perring’s explanation of why they are beautiful to him. Riffing off, and woven through, this is the unfolding story of Alexander and Lucy. And better than six steak knives to round out an impossibly good deal, there is Miranda Sofroniou’s vivid, bold and sumptuous artwork. Each element combines to create a multi-layered tapestry that asks you to curb the impulse to race through it (like resisting the packet of Tim Tams in the freezer!); to read, pause, savour and re-read before turning the page.
The inconsistent application of the narrative POV, swapping between Perring’s, Alexander’s (in first and 3rd person) and Lucy’s (in the 3rd) adds a unique and undeniable momentum. It keeps the book from becoming formulaic and repetitive while creating delicious space for expectation and uncertainty. Who is actually narrating… and, does it actually matter?
Breathless in its brevity, the power of Perring’s writing is not just in the economy of language or the stripped back nature of the narrative, but in the hardwiring of anecdotal glimpses (and often nothing more) that tremble with Universal resonance: misunderstandings, love, loss, longing, perfect snapshot moments. His writing breaks all the ‘show don’t tell rules’, yet reveals the narrative arc in such a way the reader is certain they were only ever shown it. Perhaps watching on, in person, as it unfolded on the airplane, in the garden center or the wine bar that night.
Perring mainlines emotions in a way that compels the reader to open their heart to weep bittersweet tears into. He delivers with such ease single sentence gut-punches then switches back to offer promises of love when all hope has fled.
And all this in just 2000 words (give or take)!
The best thing about Beautiful Words… there is more to come with the release of Beautiful Trees and Beautiful Shapes later this year.
**Five perfectly-shaped obcordate leaves**
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Nik Perring is a short story writer and author from the UK. His stories have been published in many fine places both in the UK and abroad, in print and online. They’ve been used on High School distance learning courses in the US, printed on fliers, and recorded for radio. Nik is the author of the children’s book, I Met a Roman Last Night, What Did You Do? (EPS, 2006); the short story collection, Not So Perfect (Roastbooks 2010); and he’s the co-author of Freaks! (The Friday Project/HarperCollins, 2012). His online home is www.nikperring.com and he’s on Twitter as @nikperring