A Common Pornography by Kevin Sampsell 0 Comments

A Common Pornography by Kevin Sampsell

I guess there is a lot of double meaning in the title of this book. Does common mean frequent, or shared, or lowly, or what? And then pornography, which refers to the literal porno and sex in the text, but also voyeurism, and frivolous art. All of which overlaps and gives you a pretty good feeling of the book, offering a valuable counterpoint to the brilliantly clean prose throughout. The only potential meaning I would hasten to remove from the title is that there’s anything lowly about the lives that Sampsell has written about.

I don’t want to say that he’s unflinching in the way he describes his life, because that somehow suggests he would flinch away from some of it if he were a little less brave. Which maybe is true, I don’t know. But what he really achieves is a sense that this isn’t anything to flinch away from, anymore. The book is made up of short anecdotes from Sampsell’s life, mainly his childhood and youth, but the first of these is from his recent past, a panic attack, where he finds himself unable to face his bedroom and drives aimlessly through the early morning, naked and frightened. Which he attributes to, six months after his death, finally finding himself grieving for his father. Who was an asshole, by all accounts. Including the books’.

But so the prose. It makes his father sympathetic and unsympathetic very elegantly. There’s no revisionism and there’s no cruelty in the writing. It doesn’t trivialise anything, it doesn’t glorify anything. It feels common, in the way that word has the potential to also mean beautiful. It’s all true, is the point, but not in that awful agenda-heavy honesty that so much memoir suffers from. I usually can’t bear to read about people’s misery, or childhood, or whatever, for more than 20 pages. But Sampsell’s prose has an un-needy honesty that lets it all just do what it needs to do. Sampsell has no designs on the reader. If anything, his agenda is one of catharsis and/or self-confrontation. The pornographic part is that he allows us to watch.

Sam wrote earlier about short/long works, and I will confess to reading this in 24 hours. I have a feeling it might be even better if savoured a bit more, considered and churned over. I love these one- or two-page chapters some books are moving towards, but sometimes there needs to be like a sticker or something on the front that says: ‘Read this slowly. It deserves more than a day in your immediate consciousness.’

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