King of Joy

Richard Chiem (Author)

Product Details

$15.95  $14.67
Soft Skull Press
Publish Date
March 05, 2019
5.5 X 0.7 X 8.2 inches | 0.4 pounds
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About the Author

Richard Chiem is the author of ​You Private Person, which was named one of Publishers Weekly​'s 10 Essential Books of the American West. His work has been published in ​City Arts, ​Vol. 1 Brooklyn​, ​Fanzine​, ​3: AM Magazine​, and ​Moss​, among many other venues. He has taught at Hugo House and at the University of Washington Bothell. He lives in Seattle.


Praise for Richard Chiem

"Considering how much I love Richard Chiem's writing, and given how its uncanny snare and sweep of life's especially agile, prompt, messed, lithe, sharp, and heartbreaking things leaves me stiffed of summarizing words, I think I'll just nominate his work for immortality." --Dennis Cooper, author of The Marbled Swarm

Praise for You Private Person

"Richard Chiem writes of all the weirdness and ooziness and tenderness of young love, with such lucid specificity. Like some beautiful film from the '70s, but also distinctly now. Because I also love how in this book he documents the tremors of contemporary existence, of living and working in a city, measuring days not in coffee spoons but in cigarettes and Simpsons episodes." --Kate Zambreno, author of Book of Mutter and Green Girl

"Richard Chiem's You Private Person is a bustling prism of a thing, full of passages that actually lead somewhere off the paper. His words have brains that have bodies that wake you up in the way waking can be the best thing, like into a warm room full of good calm remembered things that feel both like relics and new inside the day. Here rings a wise and bravely sculpted book packed full of stunning thankful color." --Blake Butler, author of Three Hundred Million and There Is No Year

"Oh, what a strange, sexy, little book this is. It will have you wondering whether you would categorize yourself as a sociopath or an animal, and it will make you think very carefully about how to approach unwrapping the tinfoil which covers a pie someone has given to you. It will have your mind occupied with thoughts of God and long-distance relationships. It will have you thinking of love and life and language and flying and cities and cigarettes and the length of a Simpsons episode and that song 'Lover's Spit.' Richard Chiem captures the mundane depravities of being young and alive with lucidity and a touching, weird grace. Everyone should live in his world for a little while." --Kristin Iversen, NYLON

"One of the most compelling and simultaneously disarming things about this book is the style of the prose. . . . As all people who know each other intimately do, each set of characters in YPP seem to speak their own language to each other. Chiem's narration does this too. He takes words, phrases, and even common cliches and destabilizes our knowledge of them . . . animating them with a strange, new kind of life." --Bellingham Review

"Though they share a certain aesthetic with the emotionless-young-people literary boom of the late 1980s, Person's stories are not Douglas Coupland-style elegies for doomed, ridiculous civilizations or Bret Easton Ellis's unwitting self-satires. There's a seething undercurrent just beneath the placid surface of every page. . . . I greatly enjoyed Person on its initial release, but this reissue feels right, like it was foretold in an ancient prophecy. The topics that once felt like jokes now resonate bone-deep, and the structure that once felt interesting now seems just right for a world whose attention has been blasted into millions of tiny splinters. Loneliness. Rage. The always-impending apocalypse. Hate-fucking. Maybe the world wasn't ready for Person when it came out in 2012. Maybe it's being reborn at just the right time." --Paul Constant, The Seattle Review of Books

"[Richard Chiem]'s swiftly becoming one of our great chroniclers of urban melancholy. You Private Person understands that sometimes, when faced with the weight of the decisions we've made, both good and bad, and the consequences they've wrought in our lives, the only choice we really have is to start the next shift at work." --ZYZZYVA

"Richard's stories are as generous as he is. They are the quiet, electric moment between the lightning flash and the thunder rumble. And they have the same odd light." --Matthew Simmons, Hobart

"Like a stranger, sharper, more localized version of Sam Shepard's Motel Chronicles set in the Pacific Northwest. And I love Motel Chronicles." --Alex Higley, Publishers Weekly, 10 Essential Books of the American West

Praise for King of Joy Long-listed for the 2020 PEN Open Book Award
One of The Morning News Tournament of the Books Long List Picks
A The Millions Most Anticipated Book of the Year
NYLON, 1 of 14 Great Books to Read This Month
One of Dennis Cooper's Favorite Books of the Year
A Paperback Paris Most Anticipated Spring Book

"A remarkable portrayal of restless youth, made sweeter by the author's crisp, spare prose and a thoughtful portrayal of a woman who lost her way." --Kirkus Reviews

"This experimental literary novel is the right amount of both dreamy and dark . . . Lush, packed with jarring details, and surprisingly tender . . . A delicious, demonic novel that fades through adjacent, looping worlds in the magical early 2000s. Chiem evokes a lost decade and suggests the shape of the monsters that churned beneath its surface." --Foreword Reviews (starred review)

"A disturbingly beautiful portrayal of trauma and grief, loss and redemption, friendship and fucking--and hippos . . . It's beautiful and painful and just psychedelic enough to make you feel like you've gone on a real journey when you turn the very last page." --Kristin Iversen, NYLON

"Chiem's work is characterized by rich yet unadorned sentences, dreamlike scenes, and images that shock and awe with their astute observations. King of Joy's subject matter is heavy, but the reader is somehow able to float above it on Chiem's pleasant rhythms. That's not to say that the reader isn't going to come away from the book haunted . . . [A] tight, heartbreaking work." --Daniel J. Cecil, The Rumpus

"[Chiem's] fiction uses passiveness to great effect, employs it as a way to examine the world . . . You might think that a 200-page novel about a young woman who is all but emotionally dead might be boring, or aimless, or as empty as its protagonist. You would be underestimating Chiem's considerable talents.There's an energy seething behind the words in King of Joy, an outrage and a demand for justice, that drives the story onward . . . It goes to some delightfully weird places." --Paul Constant, The Seattle Review of Books

"Outrageous, fast-paced, and unpredictable . . . Chiem is a skillful writer leading us in this oddball world of hippos, porn kings, and avant-garde theatre . . . Richard Chiem is a kind of literary Robyn circa Body Talk . . . This novel is not only an exploration of grief; it's a confrontation with vulnerability, a journey from stoic numbness to an embrace of human emotion, and, in the end, a celebration of our ability to, if not heal, then at the very least, be resilient." --Eric Nguyen, diaCRITICS

"One of the best books I read this year was Richard Chiem's King of Joy. It's a compelling and vivid experimental novel that is also staggeringly visual--the HD colors, slick skin and dewy details are so true and lush that reading it feels effortless, like letting a projector cast light across your face. It's dreamy, sexy and psychedelic, but the raw depictions of grief, trauma and resiliency will bust your heart open. I can't wait to read more from Chiem." --Kimberly King Parsons, Willamette Week

"A surprisingly poignant novel about the devastating nature of grief, but also the importance of love and friendship." --Ian Mond, Locus

"There are overtones of David Lynch and Denis Johnson . . . Chiem excels at fine, metaphorical finesse." --Stefan Milne, Seattle Met

"There's a dream-like quality to the situations Chiem invents, and animals in the book are often attributed more admirable human qualities than the humans: people let Corvus down but pit bulls, cats, and hippopotami alike display loyalty, adoration, and a fierce protective spirit . . . There is something refreshingly ordinary about the author's milieu. His characters are disaffected urbanites, not academics or precocious wunderkind. They listen to Elliot Smith, work menial jobs, and look forward to the end of the day when they can self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. King of Joy finds Corvus occupying a bleak fork in the road. Through her struggles, she doesn't reach any hard-fought truth; she doesn't emerge from her suffering with a greater appreciation for life, she simply emerges, and in her world, that's enough." --Zack Ravas, Zyzzyva

"In his debut novel, King of Joy, Richard Chiem not only suspends disbelief, he nukes it so that there's nothing left but honesty . . . A slippery tale of redemption, at once about struggle and about friendship. Chiem writes with such honesty, the book becomes an eloquent honest tale of a person finding their way out of a particularly decimating chapter of their life. You owe it to yourself to join Corvus on her journey." --Thrillist, One of the Best Books of the Year (So Far)

"This novel has a mood to it, a specific tone that completely encompassing you while reading . . . His prose are sharp, often leaving you with lines you will want to read over and over again. With surreal elements, hippos and dark humor, King of Joy is an unforgettable novel, a story that beautifully dissects the very real feelings of sadness, isolation, loneliness and human connection." --Kailey Brennan, Write or Die Tribe

"He's one of my favorite younger writers. I'm kind of in awe of his prose, which has so many seemingly at odd qualities, from utter precision to deep mysteriousness, happening concurrently that his writing, or its effect, can seem almost 3-dimensional a lot of the time." --Dennis Cooper

"Richard Chiem has followed up his collection You Private Person with a novel centered around a young woman for whom pop culture serves as a literal means of escape from the stresses of the world around her. Chiem's novel explores our relationship to film and music even as it posits an intriguing take on grief and trauma." --Vol. 1 Brooklyn

"King of Joy is a masterclass in the ebb and flow of faith, and a beaming testimony that there is still light beyond the tunnel of trauma." --Paris Close, Paperback Paris, 1 of the 60 Best Books of the Year

"Kittens in vending machines, hippos rising out of dark water, broom handles made of gold: in his first novel, King of Joy, Seattle writer Richard Chiem blends comforting absurdity with the most profound reaches of grief. The result is a strange, unsettling harmony that is typical of his writing . . . The intelligence of the writing really lies in Chiem's use of language: eschewing traditional rules of prose, he crafts a disarming and wholly original vernacular. It creates a cinematic and ultra-evocative story space . . . sure to leave an impression on readers." --Emma Levy, Shelf Awareness

"Richard Chiem's debut novel King of Joy (released in March through Soft Skull Press) is full of lessons--lessons about love, loss, grief and survival . . . It's a story that takes us deep into human suffering, but still finishes with a triumphant burst of hope." --Rachel Gallaher, The Seattle Times

"This novel is transfixing: an imaginative meditation on emotional survival, isolation, and the beauty and limitations of human connection. I love Chiem's writing." --Melissa Broder, author of The Pisces

"What a funny, fresh, bittersweet masterpiece--there is no one else in the world writing like Richard Chiem. From the sentence-level wizardry to the racing plot, I feel smarter just having read this. Every page brings a new set of wonders." --Alissa Nutting, author of Made for Love

"Richard Chiem's wonderful new novel explores the intersections of sex and survival, sadness and friendship, making art and discovering love, short-circuiting expectations at every juncture. Casually surreal and utterly spellbinding, King of Joy is a deeply moving story about our quests for various forms of oblivion." --Jeff Jackson, author of Destroy All Monsters

"Chiem is one of my favorite writers AND readers in Seattle. His meditative sentences pull you close, and then, right when he has you where he wants you, he shows you the strangest and most heartbreaking and quietly funny things you've ever seen. Women drunk on champagne and lighting a tree on fire. An airplane entering and then exiting the reflective mirror of a puddle. A glowing black chandelier. These are some of the striking scenes and images you'll find as you follow the story of Corvus, a young woman who uses her imagination to cope with the pains of loss--until one day she suffers a loss so great she can't escape." --Rich Smith, The Stranger

"King of Joy is a perfect rendering of that feeling of dark and hopeful closeness with loss I've always known but could never put to words." --Chelsea Martin, author of Caca Dolce

"In King of Joy, Richard Chiem shows us what it is to live in the immediate, day-to-day song of forever grief. Each sentence is masterfully written and equally afflicted by the one craving that affects us all, which is the desire to belong. This book turns pain over and over in its raw mouth, exposing what it is like to feel longing in its deepest, most hidden form, and teaches us more than we could have ever hoped to learn about pure love, loss, and the hard work of accepting the human condition." --Elle Nash, author of Animals Eat Each Other

"Richard Chiem writes like someone whispering in your ear. He's insistent and methodical, and you want to hear every word he has to say. King of Joy takes Chiem's unparalleled voice and carefully amplifies it, ratcheting the tension until you're not sure where he stops and you begin. It is a brilliant, tender examination of the unholy magnitude of trauma. It shows how pain can simultaneously destroy and preserve a person. Most of all, it is just goddamn beautiful writing." --Kristen Arnett, author of Mostly Dead Things

"King of Joy is a tale that tiptoes around the worlds of realism and absurdism as Corvus undertakes a quest for survival." --Sharon Lee, The Margins