April 2010

Kati Nolfi

fiction

Jennifer Love Hewitt Times Infinity by Kevin Fanning

I never thought I would enjoy short stories written by an HR recruiter. Fanning, a recruiter by day, has written fifteen one- to four-page mythical stories about the power and allure of celebrity and technology. Jennifer Love Hewitt Times Infinity is a chapbook of short stories about Jennifer Love Hewitt, sort of. Fanning says that the book had to be about her, that “she’s really famous, but she’s not a lightning rod for controversy the way a Britney or a Lindsay Lohan is,” which seems to be a polite way to say that she is so bland and elusive that you could bend her, characterize her any which way, or not characterize her at all. When “Jennifer Love Hewitt is all of these things, or none, or something else entirely,” her elusiveness becomes the point, the intriguing factor in writing about, or around her.

Kevin Fanning’s fans are really enthusiastic. He has a cult following something like Tao Lin’s, with a highly active online presence and a feeling that the author’s writing is life changing for a niche readership. His publishing process is about connecting with people, circumventing middlemen and gatekeepers, being creative, and using social networking (Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads) and DIY tactics to share his writing. He started doing this ten years ago with websites like whygodwhy.com.

The collection begins with this odd image: “Jennifer Love Hewitt has a glass window in the center of her abdomen, through which one can view the inside of her stomach.” Throughout, the JLH construct is somewhat of a goddess, infallible and omniscient, which is perhaps funny mostly because she is a mediocre performer. Fanning points out the epic death battle of awards shows and the ridiculousness of a B-list television actress in stories like his “The Best Actress”:

Jennifer Love Hewitt could feel the dark matter that separates this world from the next buckling and straining, even now as she sat beneath the klieg lights of the Shrine Auditorium, wearing the dress that People magazine would declare a Red Carpet Loser the following week. This despite the fact that maybe only one-tenth of her outfit was even manifest to the human eye in this reality… The time was drawing close, she could feel it. The battle would rage soon enough.

In “The Guardian of the Afterlife,” about JLH’s short-lived television show Time of Your Life, JLH and Jonathan Schaech play What Will Happen Next? pondering their characters’ deaths: 

She realized that this was where all stories ultimately end, and that not knowing wasn’t enough anymore. As soon as Jonathan left her trailer, Jennifer Love Hewitt chanted the necessary incantations to transport herself to the spirit realm, and that is how she ended up in a fierce battle against Golloch the demon guardian of the afterlife.

Not all the stories are winning. “The Rogue Programmers” and “Messages from Far Away” are not engaging. Like many of the stories, they have elements of technology and are premised on JLH’s extraordinary abilities, but for me they are mired in uninteresting computer minutiae. It is funny that “between acting gigs she’d invariably have some new invention to show off,” but is it because we assume that she is dumb?

Some stories threaten to get serious, like the mournfully resigned “Scratch-Resistant”: “Jen closed her laptop and had the strongest desire to just let the glass go; throw it or let it fall and smash itself across the floor. It would be over, and she wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore… But she didn’t. She just put if back in the sink with the other glasses.” This deferred violence reminded me of Notes from Underground, in which the Underground Man raises his vodka bottle to smash someone over the head… but decides to pour a drink instead.

The context of these stories is so borderless, and the elements are either specific and prosaic or ethereal and demonic. Since Fanning’s fan base comes from his Internet presence, it makes sense that the primacy of the online world is integral to his stories. With JLH as a proxy, Fanning imagines the mythological and immanent behind the banal and blandly pretty exteriors.

Jennifer Love Hewitt Times Infinity by Kevin Fanning
Cold God Press
36 Pages