Oceans Of Ink by Sheldon Sinnamon.
Before anything else, I face a clown, fresh from Stephen King’s wildest ambitions, or perhaps from that 90s arcade shooter, Carnevil. His razor fangs and KISS-like tongue echo the chaos in Oceans of Ink, one that brings me back to late teen years spent resisting the urge to educate my younger siblings on just why they should fear carnies, clowns, and colorful costumes. This was only the overture to a book that would leave me craving more.
From the moment I read about a young Sinnamon’s encounter with some tweakers snorting lines in a bar’s men’s room, I’m captivated by this bard of a pierrot, this storytelling jester who evokes all the grief and confusion of Pagliacci himself whilst still retaining a grit and ice all his own. From tales of questionable beverages in dingy London pubs to attempts at serenading women in a stupor, he keeps you captive through all of the first part.
From seedy drunken ramblings to the depths of mental contortion, the second section of this collection holds you hostage with questioning on what it means to be a poet. From poignant critiques of grammar and proofreaders to pithy comments on the nature of our world and the futility of certain idioms, and even fitting in some odes to the downtrodden and depressed, somehow, this section is an addictive exploration of the psyche, one that doesn’t need a drink to get started.
The further you journey into Oceans of Ink, the more you feel as though you’re plunging into an ocean yourself. “Confession”, in particular, hit particularly strong for me, bringing back the not-so-good old days, when I’d wake from night terrors of childhood, ever-vigilant for threats that long since passed, trapped in memories that seemed inescapable, just as the narrator’s seem to be. “Man with no title” seemed a familiar parallel as well. The awareness of abandonment and rejection well outside one’s control is often a powerful motivator, yet it ends with the acceptance that he can’t miss what he never had, and he never really had his father to begin with, just a sperm donor who never matured to adulthood. Dedicating this entire section of his book to trauma was a stroke of genius on Sinnamon’s part.
The remainder of this volume is filled with reflections on love, lust, sanity, trauma, and support. Do not expect a happy ending. Do not expect a trope-filled tale. I don’t even want to spoil any of it for you. You should read it for yourself and learn why I’ve had trouble putting this down all week. If you’re able to tear yourself way for anything less than an urgent errand, or perhaps a needed 9-5 job, I’ll be impressed.