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Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall — Ken Sparling

Another title orphaned at Knopf when Sony Mehta knopffed Lish off the job roster.  Sparling can be found in later issues of The Quarterly, sections from this novel, if novel is the correct term, as Sparling, a Canadian writer, refers to his books as anti-novels.

His experience with Knopf, aside from workung with Lish, was not a positive one.  An article at Quill & Quire tells it best —

…what makes Sparling’s case unusual is that four years earlier, in 1996, his first book, Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, was published by Knopf U.S., one of the world’s most prestigious literary publishers. But if anything, that taste of mainstream success seemed to scare him off. “I didn’t enjoy the experience particularly,” Sparling says of being published by Knopf. “I didn’t hate it. It was just nothing. There was no experience – it was like shopping at Wal-Mart.” His mentor, the infamous New York editor and writer Gordon Lish, had been fired from Knopf in the middle of the editing process, and after that, Sparling felt invisible. “They did it, they made the book as they agreed to, but they didn’t do anything else,” he says. It was enough of a disappointment for Sparling to give up on publishing altogether, at least for a time.

The road to Knopf began in the early 1990s, when Sparling submitted work to the Toronto literary journal Blood & Aphorisms, run at the time by Sam Hiyate and Tim Paleczny. Hiyate took to Sparling’s work, published several of his stories, and then a few years later made him a B&A fiction editor. Around that time, in 1994, Hiyate also suggested that Sparling send his stories to Lish’s literary magazine, The Quarterly. Sparling was already writing very short stories, but Lish – known for his ruthless cutting – made Sparling’s work even sparer. “Lish had this huge, maybe misplaced confidence,” Sparling says. “He would just take out what he didn’t like as he went through it the first time.” Some authors later complained about Lish’s invasiveness, but Sparling liked the leaner prose, and adopted the style that was formed during their relationship.

The orphaned book soon found its copies in remainder bins for 1 or 2 bucks, as happens a lot (such as The Red Truck, where we found a oopy).

Despite the invisible treatment, the production design and art is excellent…looks at first like a Chip Kidd, who did many of the Lish books, but is someone else.  The back cover is rathr nifty ++

as well as the interior text, each chapter looking like this —

The prose within? Sparling has a way of sucking you in and seducing you with his sentences. Nasically a story of a man, his wife, and their stubborn child,. Sparling makes the mundance moments of life adventurdes in words. Sure, the Lish hand is quite evident here, and sometimes even sounds like Lish, but we have come to expect that. Still, Sparling is his own writer, especially with his recent anti’novels over the past decade.


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