Four New Messages
by Joshua Cohen
$14.00 List Price
“I should tell this story the way one should tell this story to one who has never made a bed,” says the narrator of “Sent,” the final missive in Joshua Cohen’s immoderately brilliant tetralogy Four New Messages. He’s describing a bed. Or rather, he’s parodying a particular folktale style of someone describing a bed—a parody into which creep carefully considered anachronisms and authorial asides (“Better to just show the bed! Fairies! Better to roll around on the thing and hear it sing! O spirited sprites!”). In so doing he’s also talking, as he does in each of these stories, about the process of writing not just as metafictional exercise but as it relates to the process of living. It’s not exactly the central preoccupation of the stories, but it’s nonetheless a sustained interest, and useful as a kind of organizing principle, because the breadth of Four New Messages’ preoccupations is as unbounded as the Internet, from which it draws its chief inspiration.
In the first story, “Emission,” the narrator is a failed writer, and even though he announces straightaway that “this isn’t that classic conceit where you tell a story about someone and it’s really just a story about yourself,” it still comes as a surprise that he is not, in fact, going to tell you about himself. He goes on, instead, to relate the tale of Mono, a drug courier from New Jersey who does something horribly stupid, which is then blogged about. After the post goes viral, Mono keeps doing progressively more stupid things that result in his having to flee the country. Cohen seems most interested here