Posts Tagged ‘Excerpt’


An excerpt from Witz.
Dalkey Archive Press, May 10, 2010.

At home in the past—these days, who isn’t?

Hanna schlepping through the door and leaving her keys hanging from the lock their psalm, she’s rushing her perishables into the fridge: that that goes to spoil, its propensity for turning, only a matter of time to expiring’s sour, the date best sold by, the date best used to consume by, who knows the moon, it’s always better to be careful, there’re too many warnings, a wane of time, not enough: then, arranging it all in the fridge in the kitchen, which room’s existence she often calls the Kitschen and then laughs to herself a slight snort, with her hand over her mouth smelling of armpit and onion, it’s her humor, her house. Here in this Kitschen, then, amid the kitsch of the kitchen, she’s perpetually at home, eternity and its preservatived roof, vacuumsealed. The bread the flesh of potassium sorbate, broken on the ziplock track of her tongue. Here, she’s always been here, even when she’s been out rushing her errands all over the place, overscheduled, hectic, in two places at once at the third, though who’s complaining—her, too. Here, she always returns here, always preparing (shopping for, cooking, cleaning) that meal neverending, our interminable, immovable feast; such course after courses amply couponed, savingsclubbed, dish after dish after this new recipe I just thought I’d try out.

Never one to waste, she cleans even as she’s still cooking, but no, it’s never sufficient . . . no sponge could have enough capacity, no wrungout rag; the mess always wins—it’s that that’s eternal, that’s what she knows from . . .

Known everything from their recesses, by them—how Hanna can find anything, whether by eye or by hand: that shelf of bowls longneglected, chipped into veins clayed with dust, dishes with their rims coursed in binding vine, perched upon by stilled flutters of bird, who knows from where they came forming below the molds of fish and of lion and star, whose Zeyde’s rusted samovar steeped in disuse, antediluvian steamers and strainers, their rust and, too, the most apocryphal of utensils . . . these distended, sexualized ladles, torturous forks tined in knives, fivebladed cleavers with their handles as thick as her grandmothers’ arms, they must be Old World, an inheritance, legacy served on a silverplatter, though lately she’s preferred Asianmade; plasticstuff she got through catalogs, over the phone 1-800 the drier and smoker and that juicermachine dingie, the crêpeapparatus, the sandwichpress thing and the wok. And the progress, the history even here . . . the utensils shelved and drawered then underslung hung, in every volution both efficient and cheap—sharpened on light from wood to metal, then from metal to who knows what spaceage polymer hyperbolic, the synthetic promise . . . as seen on TV: a guarantee money back, but not time; that and their storage she has, too, in all its advances tuppered and tamped, with the leftovers keeping for longer, maybe forever, their preservatives and then the plastic atop in its suffocate wrap holding everything in, to be freezered or fridged. And the marks this life’s left on her body, the cling: her fingers’ calluses, the burnstains and blademarks, brunting, the handlestress, kiss it; the tough of her palm holds a knife even when she’s not, the imprint, its mark.

Kitsch, what’s to expect: despite how new or improved, however much onsale or off, everything here, all this stuff, she says, Dreck—it seems old, obsolete, no matter what dated past use. It’s terrible, this being bored not just with yourself but with your own special things, doing what you do every day because you’ve always done it and now you have to, forever (the tunasalad always made with shreds of hardboiled egg; the eggsalad always flecked with paprika—we’ve come to expect nothing less), and that making you feel over, old and done with, as if yourself obsolete, backdated to what my mother had been, what I never wanted to be, what I told myself I’d never become. How I’m kitsch, how everything is . . . existence itself’s what she’s thinking, tradition this ritual reliving of what came before, it’s enough: the very moment that a thing begins to exist, is cooked from out of the ether, reduced simmering from the manifest of infinity or any other way’s brought into our world—it’s kitsch already, no ifs about it or buts. Immediate and total, kitsch forever and ever. As who I am, she thinks if with less form, with less apparency than can be evident in the embodied cause of this accusation, my purpose, my standing and station, my wifehood, my motherliness—how it’s just kitsch from the glimmering getgo, from its very idea, as possibility, as potentiality, it’s gone, eternally hopeless, over before it began. That it’s not the frequency, the regularity, the manywashings, the rinse and repeats then stirs again of digital clock time that makes the kitsch, that denies the dreck, births the disappointment, the failure, and so accepts anything as is, that takes on any task, that grants any request, obliges such favors for all: it’s more like my pure being, my Hannaness, she thinks, there you have it, there I have it, here I am but still, nothing but dated and doomed. Thanks a million, come back soon. I might as well make the most of it, though. Might as well follow it through.

Hanna the Bride-Queen, the Queen-Bride, whichever, or both, folded then stirred, into one. Too much for this she thinks too short, heavybreasted body. Two loaves of her rolled, kneekneaded. Stuck in this kitchen as if honeyed to the floor. Now, take all of her worry and thinking and rinse, sprinkle liberally with allegory, just a pinch of parable, pat dry then let sit overnight on the porch amid winter. Wait for the rise. Hanna’s preparing a meal for her intended, for her groom and her king . . . least she could do. Israel, her husband, and her Messiah, too, in that he might not be a savior but he is always late—forever, I mean, he’s taking forever: he’s been arriving it feels for as ever long as she’s been cooking with the ticker, the timer’s long stilled. A watched pot never boils, only blackens. How once she’d dropped her birthdaywatch in the pot, then went out to buy a new exact one so he wouldn’t think she didn’t like it, or lost. King and groom, whichever I’m saying he’s taking his time. Bound to her bind. And if he’s to be her Messiah, then this kitchen must be her exile, too: as far as dispersions go, luxurious enough, though gone to waste in her longing (the entropic pleasures of a homegym, replete in its deplete with adjoining mediaroom)—houses and schools, then those places of worship known as nondenominational Temples, they ingredient themselves out of mold, whip and whisk themselves up at the outermost rim of the range, the stovetop the manual says, how she’d thrown it away, the accidental trash . . . lives line the brass burners, burbled from grease, congealed from years fat and day’s oil; roads paved of grout run the length of the middle island, gas and electric link the further exurbs of tiling grid with the hum of the refrigerator hub, lit under the whirring, whirling sky, which is the hood once the bulb’s been replaced. The longing hum of the fridge filling everything with an eerie motion, an activity, a progress, the formica, the metal and tile, sets their mixtures spinning, aswirl, stirring up these new kitchens in new houses grown within and as the eternity of her own kitchen, her old home, rooms hacked out of groutrot, faience, spiced earthenware, and the cupboard with china: kitchens sprouting up from the neglect of her Kitsch (it’s so hard to keep up, it’s so hard to keep up, it’s so difficult), to fill her house, which is the home of the world, with scents of their own, a whirlwind of waft: cooking, she’s cooking still, which is stirring then tasting then stirring again, all the while judiciously laying aside the best cuts for him, for Israel her husband and—and he’ll come, he will, he has to, imminent, it’s arrived, the kiss of his keys at the cheek of the door by the side . . . when the kitchens’ timers will become aligned—then stop all at once, stilled, their massed ticking will unravel hands of hands both chapped and chaffed, ungloved and how time will mean nothing anymore: no more preheating, defrosting, no more of this letting sit or soak overnights; how everything then will always be ready, in a preparation suspended, preparing into itself, weeping within ever deeper, spices of spices, tastings of tastes, and then, suddenly, the phones ring out on all the lines pitched as softly high as the smokealarm or the light, individually yearning, but when sounded simultaneously bringing only darkness, thick spoiled noise. Grniinrgrginnigr.

He’ll be late.

Goodbye, kiss kiss the hugging of lips, I love you, goodbye, the polymer baby’s replaced in its cradle; and, soon enough, late’s no longer an idea, a recipe’s template or mold made if from scratch, the limited, limiting face of a clock set as wide as time but wound tightly in spite: it’s more like a state, this permanent not—though soon, please, God, I hope soon. If it rings again, let him leave a message.

It’s been given over somewhere or other, I don’t know, go ask your mother, that when you die, and you will, when you leave, finally, this terrestrial kitchen, that you live again, and in some other otherworldly kitchen, and there with every object you ever broke, cracked, destroyed, ruined, or otherwise defiled in your entire life at your disposal, and only those: and so Hanna, to drink her own spoiled milk, deathmilk from Israel’s clubby bachelorhood glasses sharded together from shatter, to sit on a chair missing a leg at a table that wobbles, to gaze out over Paradise from the platesmashed window of her brunchnook, shabby in skirts without knees, frayed hems, heelless solestripped athletic shoes, not so white anymore. At ten in the Eden of morning, an hour she’d almost never wasted in such reflection, with the kinder off at school, Israel at work, she’s at table, at herself idle, not hurting anyone anymore: having destroyed, if only objects, having depossessed possessions, and she herself, dead (the cancerous sunning, the fibrotic breasts, the two lumps ignored, she’d done it to herself, we all do or our parents) . . . or else, in another interpretation, this is life—and only death is when everything’s fixed, where all’s mended again and made whole: with glue on the seams of mugs, raggedypatches on the elbows of sweaters, sneaky shoelaces tied together to tie once again, with no more worrying knots to finger at numbly, what with the arthritis healed, that third breast lump gone and as for her car, its door’s intact and its fender, too, she’s sure he’ll never notice. And all the promises, all the vows she’s ever made and those that’ve been made for her and to her, fulfilled. And yet she’s still waiting, and waiting.

Though he never promised, just said so: babele, I’m coming . . .

It’s less him than the pain, hers, though all of it hurts. Tears are her eyes, pregnant pouches. At table, Hanna’s stomach gives a growl. Who can eat . . . quickly, she doubles herself, folds in, rocks her gut, the loose swell of her emptiness, the bag not paper or plastic but me—cries loudly for help from her kinder, her who never needs help or wants it; this is It. As there’s no answer, and sensing the timing, the ineluctably slow ticktock of the heart, she tilts toward the laundryroom, grabs a rag on her way through the kitchen to the hall—once inside shuts the door, her hand to feel shut the seam.

It’s here that she births herself. Insideout.

It’s all in the hips, their bones softened in her own churning water, a heavy flow like the chugging of laundry, the colors, the whites and the deathblacks, a night. A give in the womb. Her lips open, her legs come through, but the inside of legs, their insides, ligaments to tendons sucked up then out feetfirst, coming through bound in veins . . . then, her thighs follow, their fat greases them through, here the bulge of her waist, there the lower half consuming the upper, the teethmarks of her panty’s band, their elasticized chatter; she leans up against the warmth of the washingmachine, which is on, the sounds of which, its regular rumblings turned shudders, are louder than hers, conceal, consume, the shakes of the floor, flakes of basement’s ceiling, plasterskin peeled and the heat: Sabbath upon Shabbos of this has accustomed her to the quiet required; still, her bottom lips tend to bleed. Her breasts come through before her arms, the underneaths of inverted nipples, their reversed areolæ like drinkcoasters on cedarwood, wet, how she’d always have to remind, Wanda, too, don’t put a glass on the wood—then the arms, their fingers to elbows to shoulders, and at the last moment of hold, the last stain upon time, she throws the rag she’s been holding to her mouth to the mouth of the thrashing machine (later, to that of the dryer nextdoor); she opens the lid, the cycle stopped, closes the lid to begin the rumble again, and the heat. Her limbs aren’t broken, they’re too weak to break—complaining, overcooked—gone is the fatty droop, their deflationary birthdayballooning . . . and the batwings, too, the darkening cystics of their wens: first the fingers of her servinghand, her slicinghand, her fork and her spoon hand and that, too, of the knife to carve in the kitchen not to cut with at table, these without nails, stripped of their prints; and then, her elbows push through, are pushed knocked like her knees are into shoulders, her head nods through insensate, serously, viscous strandings from scalp, placental skull, the sac of her mouth a bubble to dirtily burst with a thermometer’s pin, a dimpling thimble, get a lick of soap, wash it all out . . . hair down the sleeve of her throat. The inside of her face is amniobathed, bared gel the quivering skin of the eyes, her nostrils denuded, flaringly roused by a smell like the scorch of detergent, a quick bleaching, a twitch of a moustache her lightened lashes and brows . . . her lips lick themselves as if she’s eaten herself, not quite, more like she’s gotten only a taste, a free sampling, and wants more, needs it: she holds naked fingers to her lips insideout, gazes beyond her blind to the crack of light coming in from the door’s draft, where it should be, should’ve been.

Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles

Binelli had been there when I came out of the silence. Or maybe he brought me out. Maybe he was there all along.

Either way.

I opened my eyes, or maybe they had already been open.

Again, either way.

But when things focused properly, Binelli was there.

—Tea? he said.

I said yes, but my voice was rusty. Who knew how long it had been since its services were needed. I mouthed yes and then nodded to make clear that I was being affirmative and agreeable. Even then I could tell that Binelli was not to be trifled with.

The tea helped. There was honey. The tea and/or the honey made things right.

—You’ll be needing new papers, Binelli said. —Finley, he added with such extraordinary nonchalance that I didn’t even think to question.

We drank the tea. We made bland small talk to get my voice awoken and up to speed. The Lamb drifted through and glared at me, then drifted through again and managed a grimace, then finally sat down and had some tea.

Binelli introduced me to her as Finley. He introduced her to me as The Lamb. There was no basis upon which to argue either point.

We made some small talk, me and The Lamb.

This was all before Murphy. Murphy came later, as previously reported, presumably of his own accord.

—You can sleep out here, Binelli told me, when all the tea was drunk and the small talk taxed. He pointed to the couch on which I was already sitting. He pointed then to a small pile of sheets. They were green sheets, like the Tropics. It was hot in the room but the sheets made things seem cool. —We’ll get you your papers tomorrow.

—Am I Russian, I wondered.

—You don’t appear to be, Binelli said.

The Lamb made a face as if to suggest my being Russian was the most absurd idea she’d yet come across.

—Good, I said. —I hate the Russians. I had no basis for this either, but it was something I knew from somewhere deep inside. Maybe a memory that had been slow or stubborn and hadn’t left with the rest. Or maybe not a memory at all but a new kind of fact, of which there might be more, revealing themselves at whim, over time.

There were in fact more. They did reveal themselves at whim. I couldn’t know that then, but I was aware of the possibility.

—I see, said Binelli, making surely a mental note of this innate distaste that he would, no later than The Very Next Day, use against me. For no apparent reason that I can yet see other than sheer spite.

But that evening I could not have known that Binelli was filled with spite, as full as most people are filled with blood. Binelli and The Lamb retired behind a door that was shut behind them and locked with a series of brisk clicks. I took the top sheet from the small pile and made to shake it out, but before I had even made one shake I looked again at what I thought I had seen sitting on the remaining sheets and I was absolutely one hundred percent correct that there was a very large and pale snake there, all coiled up, but for its head, which was not coiled up but instead lifted from its coil and facing me with the anguished look of a creature rudely awakened.

I stood very still and held the sheet. The snake made wavy snake moves with its head but remained otherwise still.

We stood off.

I have said already that I can win any such standoff and this particular circumstance was a case in point.

That is to say, the snake moved first.

The snake uncoiled with surprising dexterity, considering the intricacy of its coiling, and shot across the space between us and flicked my ankle with its angry tongue. And with its angry fangs, I found out soon enough, as I sank to the couch and the snake disappeared beneath it.

An examination of my ankle showed tiny twin teeth marks. I have never understood the logic behind sucking the venom from one’s snake wound, as it would seem to me to merely be ingesting the same poison through another equally vulnerable orifice; however, it was an impulse I made every attempt to carry out. Unfortunately, the bite was located on the outside of my ankle, which, if you were to try right now upon your own self, you’d realize is an impossible location on which to fasten one’s mouth. I am a flexible being and I was a no less flexible being back then, and I would think that if ever such a contortion could be managed, with the panic and adrenaline it would have been managed at that moment.

Like I said: however.

Et cetera.

I could not reach the outside of my ankle with my lips and then I stopped trying. I tried instead to beat down the door behind which Binelli and The Lamb had disappeared. I used my fists and one shoulder and then the other shoulder and my hips, and I used my freshly rediscovered voice to wake them from the apparent comas into which they had swiftly slipped upon barricading themselves in their fortress. There was no response and it was a very sturdy door. I did it relatively little damage. Relative to the damage incurred upon my aforementioned appendages, that is to say.

And then I lay down on the couch and covered myself with the cool green sheet and prepared to die. It seemed a terrible shame, so soon after recovering my voice, but it was all that was left me. I thought many a regretful thought while I waited, some of which seemed to me quite profound, and I did get up once to write some things down on a pad of paper Binelli had left on the coffee table. On the top of the first page, he had written: Finley, and below that: Russian, and I left those things there and turned to a fresh sheet and made to write down my final thoughts. But once faced with the paper, all I could manage was: Bit by snake. Thanks for the tea. Finley.

I ripped that sheet of paper carefully from the pad, making sure to leave the first intact, though I didn’t suppose Binelli would have further need of his notes on me, what with my untimely demise. But one hates to have it said that one’s last act was in fact the destruction of another’s property. I folded my note and left it sitting on the pad and I lay back down.

KIRA HENEHAN was born in New York and grew up in various locales around the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean. Her work has been published in Fence, jubilat, Chelsea, Conjunctions, and Denver Quarterly, among others. She has also received a Pushcart Prize and been included in A Best of Fence: The First Nine Years anthology. Henehan attended San Francisco State University and Columbia University, and now lives in New York City. Orion You Came and You Took All My Marbles is her first novel.

Vanishing Point: Middle West, Citizenship

From Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir, which will be published by Graywolf Press on March 31, 2010.

The midwest, which is to say the debate about what the midwest is or contains (Missouri? North dakota? Pennsylvania? Nebraska?), which is to say part of the section between the coasts, the middle before you get to the west, is about transit. It is transitional. We know this caught in mile-long streams of traffic and trucks queueing up behind and beside another, three wide at times, to transport materials or goods from one place to another, through the middle of the country. Though this space, this horizontality, would appear to be static, with the small towns where little seems to change, or so television tells us, and everyone moves slowly and drinks at the same bars day in and out—what appears to be a static equilibrium, a balanced equation—is still all about transition, from one place to another. It is for us at this moment, driving from small college to small college in our rented ford escape, escaping from little, escaping to little, incapable of any real sort of escape, if we wanted to attempt it, having no skills to speak of, and loving the world enough to continue wanting all of it, hungry hungry hippo style, coveting it in all its glory and variety. We are in the metal exoskeleton of the car, ipod playing familiar music through the speakers (and the world accordingly transforming itself cartoonlike as in a number of television commercials for mp3 players—the world can be made over, our experience transformed, as easy as this via soundtrack), climate control set to keep us at a temperature we are used to, electric seating system positioned for the idea of comfort: we are as at home as is possible in a rental, transitional car. Normally we have our sirius satellite radio, which allows us to bypass the horror of local programming for a glistening network of channels beamed down to us from space, no less. But this time the ipod is deployed, projecting our own soundtrack for our trip, our life, the we in wepod (the collective consciousness of music lists and listeners), everywhere around us, even in the air. We have the gps plugged in, too, so there’s no need for maps, and the whole idea of being lost is now entirely quaint (which is a sadness because we like the darkness of the unexplored map, but we are practical: we also want to get there and back quickly, and besides we can see the world passing by in real time as we drive via gps, the names of roads and rivers and golf courses; wecould almost drive with the gps only and not pay attention to the actual world around us, but technology hasn’t got us there quite yet). We are self-sufficient. Located. In command. An american dream. An orgasm on the move. It is really fucking great.

We are driving back from the world’s biggest ball of paint where we painted coat #21406 a nice cerulean sort of Sherwin-Williams blue. We donated to the cause and received a couple chips that had been shaved off the ball that demonstrate hundreds of paint layers, concentric circles originally, until gravity and sloppy paint jobs and individuality distorted its shape (it’s surely more vertical than horizontal now). Sherwin-Williams sponsors it and (we believe this is what the proprietors said) built the barn in which the ball is now housed, dangling from an industrial looking set of steel beams and cable from the ceiling. Sherwin-williams also donates all the paint. In return the corporate logo is displayed behind the ball (“Sherwin-Williams: cover the earth!”). In this way mike and glenda carmichael, creators and tenders of the ball, have put the town on the map.

Alexandria might have been in danger of vanishing otherwise. We drove by a lot of abandoned buildings, including some huge complexes where things were once warehoused, refined, produced, or packaged, with the requisite shattered windows, graffiti, rusting machinery, plant life returning through all that space. We have no doubt that in a generation it will be subsumed entirely. It will be gone, and the memory of it will have to persist since it will be out of view, postapocalyptic. We don’t know if the ball is an example of mike and glenda substantially engaging with the world, or if our visiting it is a substantial engagement (something to which we aspire as a reader and explorer), or if both are a fiction, a regression from that kind of engagement. The ball is beautiful. Mike and glenda are proud. They also seem a little tired (glenda has done 9,000+ of the coats herself). We worked up a sweat painting it (it’s now become very large), so we can only imagine.

The ball is the reverse of vanishing. It grows larger everyday. We helped to enlarge it, took part, became citizens of the ball. It has inspired, or coincided with, other balls. Another Alexandrian, andy carmichael, is in the process of making what he hopes will eventually become the world’s largest biggest ball of plastic wrap. And a few years back, Alexandria was in the news for pulling a 400-pound hairball out of the sewer. It has since dissolved, but the town built a replica, which is featured in the town’s annual christmas parade.

Oddly, the department of homeland security has reportedly identified the ball of paint as a “distinguished heritage site,” which requires funds for terror defense.

A couple filmmakers made a documentary about the ball four years ago but it was never distributed or released, though there’s a slick website. Mike is miffed that the filmmakers never showed the film in Alexandria, or even to the two of them, though it premiered, apparently, in Boston. And ended there. One imagines the film did not depict the ball or the town or the denizens of it all that kindly.

If you go to see the ball (or at least on the website you can see it by proxy, like 493,146 of your fellow internetters), drive east along washington street on your way back out of alexandria. See if you can see the ruins or if they are now gone. Stop in at JW’s, a tiny bar that serves domestic bottles on fridays for a buck (their selection is, as you’d imagine, limited). They also have tacos. The front window looks across at the ruins. No one in the bar is going anywhere anytime soon. But you are. You are driving through to see the ball, to sign the guest book, have your picture taken, touch a legend, paint the ball, become part of history, say that you’ve done that, and then you’re gone on to something else, the world’s biggest pecan, maybe, in Missouri, or the world’s biggest crucifix, in Michigan. But they are there. And the ball—and the building and the thinking that contains the ball (as if anything could really contain the ball!) Will be tended gracefully. And it continues to expand. Because of you. And you. Because of all of us.

Ander Monson is the author of a host of paraphernalia including a decoder wheel, several chapbooks and limited edition letterpress collaborations, a website <>, and five books, most recently The Available World (poetry, Sarabande, 2010) and Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir (nonfiction, Graywolf, 2010).  He lives and teaches in Tucson, Arizona, where he edits the magazine DIAGRAM <> and the New Michigan Press.


An excerpt from Robert Coover’s new novel, Noir,  published by Overlook on March 4, 2010. (more…)

Reality Hunger

An excerpt from Reality Hunger, which will be published by Knopf on February 23, 2010.



It’s a commonplace that every book needs to find its own form, but how many do?


If you want to write serious books, you must be ready to break the forms.


All great works of literature either dissolve a genre or invent one. Let Us All Now Praise Famous Men. Nadja. Cane. Oh, What A Blow That Phantom Gave Me! “The Moon in Its Flight.” Wisconsin Death Trip. Letters to Wendy’s.


We evaluate artists by how much they are able to rid themselves of convention.


Jazz as jazz—jazzy jazz—is pretty well finished. The interesting stuff is all happening on the fringes of the form where there are elements of jazz and elements of all sorts of other things as well. Jazz is a trace, but it’s not a defining trace. Something similar is happening in prose. Although great novels—novelly novels—are still being written, a lot of the most interesting things are happening on the fringes of several forms.


Still (very still), at the heart of “literary culture” is the big, blockbuster novel by middle-of-the-road writers, the run-of-the-mill four hundred-page page-turner. Amazingly, people continue to want to read that.


The Corrections, say: I couldn’t read that book if my life depended on it. It might be a “good” novel or it might be a “bad” novel, but something has happened to my imagination, which can no longer yield to the earnest embrace of novelistic form.


Is it possible that contemporary literary prizes are a bit like the federal bailout package, subsidizing work that is no longer remotely describing reality?


If literary terms were about artistic merit and not the rules of convenience, about achievement and not safety, the term “realism” would be an honorary one, conferred only on work that actually builds unsentimental reality on the page, that matches the complexity of life with an equally rich arrangement in language. It would be assigned no matter the stylistic or linguistic method, no matter the form. This, alas, would exclude many writers who believe themselves to be realistic, most notably those who seem to equate writing with operating a massive karaoke machine.


A novel, for most readers—and critics—is primarily a “story.” A true novelist is one who knows how to “tell a story.” To “tell a story well” is to make what one writes

resemble the schemes people are used to—in other words, their ready-made idea of reality. But a work of art, like the world, is a living form. It’s in its form that its reality resides.


Urgency attaches itself now more to the tale taken directly from life than one fashioned by the imagination out of life.


I want the veil of “let’s pretend” out. I don’t like to be carried into purely fanciful circumstances. The never-never lands of the imagination don’t interest me that much. Beckett decided that everything was false to him, almost, in art, with its designs and formulae. He wanted art, but he wanted it right from life. He didn’t like, finally, that Joycean voice that was too abundant, too Irish, endlessly lyrical, endlessly allusive. He went into French to cut down. He wanted to directly address desperate individual existence, which bores many readers. I find him a joyous writer, though; his work reads like prayer. You don’t have to think about literary allusions, but experience itself. That’s what I want from the voice. I want it to transcend artifice.


This is life lived on high alert.


Nearly all writing, up to the present, has been a search for the “beautiful illusion.”


Nowhere do you get a feeling of a writer deforming his medium in order to say what has never been said before, which is to me the mark of great writing.


Very well. I am not in search of the “beautiful illusion.”


Critics can’t believe that the power to make us feel our one and only life, as very few novelists actually do these days, has come from a memoirist, a nonfiction truth-speaker who has entered our common situation and is telling the story we now want told. But it has.


There’s inevitably something terribly contrived about the standard novel; you can always feel the wheels grinding and going on.


If you write a novel, you sit and weave a little narrative. If you’re a romantic writer, you write novels about men and women falling in love, give a little narrative here and there, etc. And it’s okay, but it’s of no account. Novel qua novel is a form of nostalgia.


There is more to be pondered in the grain and texture of life than traditional fiction allows. The work of essayists is vital precisely because it permits and encourages self-knowledge in a way that is less indirect than fiction, more open and speculative.


One would like to think that the personal essay represents basic research on the self, in ways that are allied with science and philosophy.


The poem and the essay are more intimately related than any two genres, because they’re both ways of pursuing problems, or maybe trying to solve problems—The Dream Songs, the long prologue to Slaughterhouse-Five, pretty much all of Philip Larkin and Anne Carson, Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being. Maybe these works succeed, maybe they fail, but at least what they all attempt to do is clarify the problem at hand. They’re journeys, pursuits of knowledge. One could say that fiction, metaphorically, is a pursuit of knowledge, but ultimately it’s a form of entertainment. I think that, at the very least, essays and poems more directly and more urgently attempt to figure something out about the world. Which is why I can’t read novels anymore, with very few exceptions, the exceptions being those novels so meditative they’re barely disguised essays. David Markson’s This Is Not a Novel, Reader’s Block, Vanishing Point, The Last Novel. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello. Kundera’s Immortality. Most of Houellebecq. Doctorow’s The Book of Daniel. Benjamin Constant’s Adolphe. Lydia Davis, everything.


The kinds of novels I like are ones which bear no trace of being novels.


Only the suspect artist starts from art; the true artist draws his material elsewhere: from himself. There’s only one thing worse than boredom—the fear of boredom—and it’s this fear I experience every time I open a novel. I have no use for the hero’s life, don’t attend to it, don’t even believe in it. The genre, having squandered its substance, no longer has an object. The character is dying out; the plot, too. It’s no accident that the only novels deserving of interest today are those in which, once the universe is disbanded, nothing happens—e.g., Tristram Shandy, Notes from Underground, Camus’s The Fall, Thomas Bernhard’s Correction, Duras’s The Lover, Barry Hannah’s Boomerang.


What the lyric essay inherits from the public essay is a fact-hungry pursuit of solutions to problems, while from the personal essay it takes a wide-eyed dallying in the heat of predicaments. Lyric essays seek answers yet seldom seem to find them. They may arise out of a public essay that never manages to prove its case, may emerge from the stalk of a personal essay to sprout out and meet “the other,” may start out as travelogues that forget where they are or begin as prose poems that refuse quick conclusions, may originate as lines that resist being broken or full-bodied paragraphs that start slimming down. They’re hybrids that perch on the fence between the willed and the felt. A lyric essay is an oxymoron: an essay that’s also a lyric, a kind of logic that wants to sing, an argument that has no chance of proving out.


An essay that becomes a lyric is an essay that has killed itself.


There are no facts, only art.


What actually happened is only raw material; what the writer makes of what happened is all that matters.


Once upon a time there will be readers who won’t care what imaginative writing is called and will read it for its passion, its force of intellect, and for its formal originality.


Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one.

Life of a Star

Excerpted from Life of a Star, which will be published by Burning Deck Books on April 15, 2010.

One night, a very long time ago, a couple stepped into our boarding house; (more…)