“Pink is a keen observer of the culture of minimum-wage jobs and low-rent studio apartments that is the reality of life for all those who don’t find a cog space in today’s hyper-capitalist economy.” —The GuardianIt was maybe the first job I’d ever had where people were happy to see me.
Pink’s prose is sharp and tight, with short sentences fired off in rapid succession. Consequently, even longer stories like ’Blue Victoria’ can be read quickly, and the whole collection could be finished in a day. Readers who miss Charles Bukowski’s blue-collar-centered fiction will find lots to like here.
Sam Pink’s latest book comprises 13 grisly, spare, and poetic stories that delve into the darkest corners of modern society--or, as Pink described in a 2018 Electric Literature interview, ’the garbage times’--and the wageworkers that inhabit it. Divided into sections on Chicago, Florida, and Michigan, Pink zooms in on the mundanities and dirty realities of labor--and the rare moments of humanity that manage to break through it.
Pink’s charm lies not in his Bukowskian idolization of the Laborer or the Crust Punk but in his pearls of unexpected detail. From opera on the radio at the end of a grueling workday to treasure in an abandoned lot, Pink sees the holiness in the grit. His prose straddles stenography and manic poetry. Jiro Ono is perfecting a grain of sushi rice; Sam Pink is perfecting a poignant single-sentence paragraph . . . In Sam Pink’s world, people are aching and ugly and precious. He’s not the first to commemorate the everyday or the overlooked, but his distinctive candor is captivating, profound, and personal . . . In his latest collection, Pink bares his all--teeth and heart--and it’s a sight to behold.
Brutal in its honesty yet also funny. Pink’s stories consist of awkward moments of forced connection and rants of anger that are hilarious but also unapologetically true.
Literature is full of characters who experience reversals of fortune or claw their way to the top; Sam Pink does not write about those people. His latest collection, The Ice Cream Man and Other Stories, is comprised of stories about the individuals who wash the dishes at your favorite restaurant, set the plates at your wedding, and yes, drive the ice cream truck through your neighborhood. In Pink’s writing style, words cascade down the page as he creates a line break after every sentence. The ample white space means it’s never long before the reader is turning the page, creating a momentum often at odds with his story’s protagonists, who are stuck watching the clock, enduring every agonizing minute until the end of their shift . . . Pink’s writing captures the flared tempers, the petty grievances, and employee solidarity of the 9 to 5--but most of all he skillfully conveys the toil . . . Pink’s writing is made increasingly palatable by the very same thing used to get through the tedium of the working day: humor. Each of these stories is buoyed by Pink’s off-kilter sensibility and comedic non sequiturs. At the same time, The Ice Cream Man possesses a caustic sadness and world-weariness that often spring from unexpected directions in the stories. There’s no denying these characters are performing work that, while necessary, is severely under-valued, a fact that can weigh heavily.
Can the same writer simultaneously create detailed evocations of workday life along with surreal, bizarre forays into the imagined? Either of these skills on its own would be deserving of renown; taken in tandem, however, they push towards something ineffable and strange. Sam Pink’s fiction documents the quotidian routines of people working jobs they hate while finding unlikely moments of grace along the way . . . Bold things are on the horizon for this ever unpredictable writer.
To say Pink is a master chronicler of minimum-wage living or to call his work some of the grittiest, most honest urban realism in contemporary literature are both accurate, but they fail to convey what reading his words is like. Reading Pink is entering a world where short sentences reign and economy of language is both a sword that trims unnecessary fat and a magnifying glass that helps us see the stuff that truly matters. The Ice Cream Man is a collection of stories that fully engages with the real world, the world of bent cigarettes and murder, of homelessness and day drinking, of rats in the alley and jobs you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy and evictions and sorrow. It’s a dark world, sure, but it also contains hope and healthy doses of laughter, friendship, and ice cream, and those things are enough to keep you coming back for more.
Dishwasher, cook, assembly line temp, ice cream truck driver--if you have or have had this sort of job, you will nod in recognition and appreciation as you read each of Sam Pink’s spot-on stories in this funny and familiar collection. Pink nails the sounds, the smells, the boredom, and the banter that envelops the workaday life of the low wage laborer. He also captures the poignancy of those small moments of connection and grace that keep us hanging on just when we might question why we should.
Sounds weird to read something inherently depressing and follow it with a laugh, but that’s the charm Pink is able to weave into his book . . . Each sentence in the collection stands alone, with Pink harnessing a weight and importance to these seemingly mundane moments. This move elevates them to something holy.
These stories make me feel like I’m eavesdropping, spying. They are the glass against the door and the ear hovering over it, the keyhole and the eye peering through. Sam Pink writes grit and beauty just as they are--no cheap tricks, no overblown metaphors. He gives us true laughter in the face of despair. Give this book to anyone who thinks they hate reading. Give this book to your best friend and your enemies. The Ice Cream Man is for all of us, is all of us.
raise for The Garbage Times/White Ibis
"The Garbage Times and White Ibis, a new pair of related novellas by Sam Pink, crackle with humanistic intimacy . . . Pink’s best writing . . . wins him fierce and cultish admiration. Part of this, I think, he owes to his chosen subject. For all the attention political theorists and commentators have lately devoted to a definition of the working class, not much fiction chronicles the sheer weirdness of working-class life and labor today . . . He’s also a keen observer of his kind, and the book brims over with the blasted personalities of Chicago’s low-wage labor force . . . The details are funny, but they never come at the characters’ expense (as they do, for example, when Bukowski writes about ’subnormals’). Instead, Pink accords them a heightened humanity.
I love the pulse of Sam Pink’s sentences, the way they can hold the gorgeous and the grisly and the hilarious all at the same time. The Garbage Times/White Ibis thrilled me and messed me up, left me feeling a little dazed and a lot changed.
The Garbage Times/White Ibis is not only Pink’s latest; it might just be Pink’s best so far . . . There are no easy descriptions when it comes to talking about Pink’s work. Unique comes to mind, but it fails to convey the ease with which he tackles deep themes like depression and self-loathing. Humorous also applies, but it doesn’t do justice to the way the author manages to bring readers into his life effortlessly and then shares with them devastating truths, both personal and universal. Likewise, words like entertaining, honest, wild, and self-aware all do the trick, but fall short because, even if used together, leave out some crucial element of Pink’s prose. The solution to this conundrum is easy: pull out a tired phrase and, as convincingly as possible, say to readers everywhere ’This is special, and the only way to truly get a sense for what’s going in in this book is to read it.’ The Garbage Times/White Ibis is classic Pink in the sense that space, sentence structure, and even the humor are all there, but it also feels like a new step for the author . . . If you have ever wondered how deep simplistic writing can be, then this is a book you should not miss. If you have ever asked yourself if an unabashedly honest view of life wrapped in a thin veil of hilarity could work, then the answer is to go read this right now. More than author, Pink is a one-person movement with a distinctive style, and this book adds yet another outstanding entry to a catalog that is already a must for anyone trying to get a real sense of what contemporary literature is all about.
The Garbage Times are followed, almost giddily, by the up-and-away of White Ibis. And in this book, Pink has done something so new, so different, that I’m struck by what a stroke of genius it was to put the Chicago book right up against it for contrast . . . The Florida book is so expansive, so wild and lovely, so full of normal-ish people and exotic animals and the oddest thing of all in a Sam Pink book--a fleeting inner calm that almost borders on happiness . . . White Ibis is so powerful and so full of hope.
White Ibis is something of a departure from Pink’s oeuvre . . . as another unnamed narrator escapes from Chicago with his girlfriend to relocate to Tampa. The change of scenery, especially when put in contrast with the Chicago of The Garbage Times, feels like stepping into another dimension. Throughout both volumes, Pink’s prose continues to balance between goofy nihilism and absolute sincerity. He has always been a writer deeply concerned with the forgotten and abandoned pockets of humanity and that remains true in each of these books. As the narrator of White Ibis observes, ’Not everyone has a sash full of skills and a heart full of love.’
From early on, Pink highlights the fact that the life of an artist isn’t glamourous. In the first novella, The Garbage Times, there is no lovely home, no bookshelves adorned with the all-time greats. It’s Chicago in the winter. A place where everything is cold, everyone suffers, and being an artist doesn’t mean you don’t have to clean up puke . . . This stage of Pink’s life lacks any kind of grace, but still he weens joy from the trashy world. It’s the trivial things--his daily routine getting drinks from the convenience store, his cat, the stories told by his coworkers--that all form this beautiful tapestry of sorrow . . . The Garbage Times/White Ibis is a chaotic, dark, and hard to put down object.
These juxtaposed novellas are about how any benumbed existence, any circumstantial grind, can backfire and produce a mind, despite the will of our petty culture, despite the domestication every act of love unwittingly employs.
The novellas are hilarious and unabashedly honest in showing how bizarre life is, how unpredictable people are, and yet how each person craves love, dignity, freedom--the fundamental needs we all share . . . There is a mysterious momentum at work in the voice-driven narrative, a Murakami-like invisible hand that guides these characters with a purpose to press on . . . His stories are unique and true and impossible to put down--what more could anyone want?
Sam Pink’s fiction shifts effortlessly between the subtle and the surreal, chronicling everyday life and exploring its ability to be both frustratingly mundane and transcendental. This pair of novellas follow an unnamed narrator through life in Chicago and a move to Florida; Pink’s eye for odd details and singular moments is second to none." --Vol. 1 Brooklyn
"Pink keeps putting out books and I keep putting everything aside to devour them. Why? Because reading Sam Pink is entering a world where humor and absurdity constantly collide with depression and the underlying violence/violent urges hidden in everyday life. Pink can make you laugh, cringe, and delve into a philosophical rabbit hole, sometimes all within the same paragraph."
The energy, pace and stream-of-consciousness writing in The Garbage Times/White Ibis pulls the reader along almost unconsciously. You’ll find yourself digging in, hanging on to every frenetic word and turn of phrase, laughing out loud and flipping through page after page.
Pink is able to convey much with the simplest phrase. The trick is, you are invited into his world. And you are not told what to think . . . I love [The Garbage Times] because it represents a culmination of Pink’s writing to this point.
Between awful jobs, country club soirées, reptile shows, and an unlikely turn entertaining a troop of Girl Scouts, the narrator and his girlfriend learn to thrive in ’the theme park state.’ Pink certainly gets Florida right, and his prose is wonderfully offbeat.
Sam Pink is the most important writer in America. This isn’t hyperbole. In a world of literary Bing Crosbys, Sam Pink is our Little Richard. The Garbage Times/White Ibis is the voice of the new writing underground.
Sam Pink’s writing is exquisitely succulent--it stimulates my intellect, makes me laugh and smile and feel complex emotions, and delights me with its tenderness, novelty, intensity, concision, and surprises.