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A German Picturesque – Jason Schwartz

This slender volume (133 pages, 5×7 format) of short short stories and prose poems has a 1998 publication date, four years after Gordon Lish was let go at Knopf.  In one of the later Vintage issues of The Quarterly, Lish lists half a dozen forthcoming books, this being one of them. That was 1994 — so Schwartz’  little book sat and waited for a publication date for nearly four years.

Seems the books Lish had signed up before getting the can were honored by the publisher, and came out from 1995 to 1998. Gary Lutz’s now iconic Stories in the Worst Way had a 1996 pub. date.   Some of these authors have noted that while getting published by Knopf was nifty, without a championing editor and backing from publicity, these books tend to slip through the cracks, such is almost the case for A German Picturesque. It was reviewed by The New York Times favorably:

In story after story, his cool language scrutinizes the world; behind this smooth prose seethe the violence and confusion of many lives, many acts. Perception itself is at times tested, with the text jumping tenses or suddenly questioning the particulars of what is being seen. Perhaps this is why these brief, at times elliptical, stories prove so fascinating: just as in real life, the reader doesn’t readily know what these bits of imagery or sound might mean, even though they seem charged with import. Unlike much so-called experimental fiction, Schwartz’s work contains genuine passion and invention — and an enormous appetite for challenging himself and his audience.

Indeed, Schwartz was doing the flash fiction/prose poem thing before it became the current craze for the ADD-set online and in print.  Many of these stories appeared in the latter issues of The Quarterly and the issue of StoryQuarterly Lish guest edited, as well as Conjunctions and Exact Change Annual, a publication that leaned toward the surreal, which the work in this thin book tends to go.

Seldom does Schwartz use dialogue; like Ben Marcus, it is all crafty and image-soaked exposition.

There was a first one. So, you must understand, there was harm after all.–oh yes, and all the fuss, and this bit of hair in the cold, crooked and worn, dear me, curled this way when she was ill (p. 11, “Stories for Boys””)

So what happened to Jason Schwartz? We (yes, we) cannot find much about him online (more books, stories) other than his faculty web page at Florida Atlantic University, where he lists only this one book and Lishlandia-influenced journals Unsaid and NY Tyrant (both fine pubs).Some have said that being labeled a “Gordon Lish writer” or student has turned out to be a curse, as if damaged.  We hope this is not the case here. In fact, a smart small press like Calimari or Dzanc would do well to reprint A German Picturesque, perhaps expanded, so more readers will know about this unfairly obscure, wonderful voice.

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2 responses »

  1. Certainly one of my favorites. Believe it was handed off to George Andreou to see through publication. I met Jason at a reading–a more circumspect presence is difficult to imagine. This book is somehow larger in my memory than all else Gordon published at that time. It draws more water, more weight.

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  2. Pingback: a german picturesque

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