Greying Ghost Press released Josh Russell’s Pretend You’ll Do It Again late last year. The chapbook’s sleek design has a certain edge about it that drew me in immediately. The brown cardstock cover recalls cardboard boxes and moving, but I particularly liked the hand-stamped gun in the center of the cover. Shooting out of it is a circle (red or yellow depending on the edition), with the title overlapping itself. The title page’s font is lighter and elegant which is a nice contrast to the cover. Inside, there are repurposed maps with pastels yellows and blues and deep reds that match the red inserts at the beginning. Many of the stories have a sense of arrival or departure, and the maps help convey this sense.
One of my favorite things about this chapbook is that Russell’s work is mostly flash fiction. As one of the few prose writers in Slash Pine, I really appreciate finding a chapbook that isn’t poetry—especially one with a high caliber of work. Russell has a strong voice throughout that takes the reader into concrete places like the foyer of a daughter coming home with her new lesbian girlfriend, or more abstract places of the mind like the recollection of prom or the hardships of growing up in a rural area. The title comes from my favorite piece in the chapbook, “Advice.” It’s one of those pieces that place you in a situation rather than a place. Russell gives advice to couples on their way to make love for the last time, and the advice is simple. Don’t focus on this being the last time, but “pretend you’ll do it again.” The language provides beautiful twists that haunt the reader days later.
I only had one issue with Russell’s chapbook, and the issue is mainly just my personal design taste. The chapbook is staple-bound, and while it is extremely effective, I prefer hand-stitched chapbooks. They’re more personal, and I feel more of a connection with the stitcher than I do with a person stapling books. I understand that stapling allows for time to be saved, though, so this isn’t a huge issue.
Russell’s Pretend You’ll Do It Again is a wonderful chapbook, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys beautiful, punching language and stories that cause one to smirk often. You can check out the book here: http://greyingghost.tumblr.com/post/12260213976/pretend-youll-do-it-again-by-josh-russell-josh