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Category Archives: Captain Fiction

Story Quarterly 21 – the Gordon Lish Workshops

We have been reading the 1986 Story Quarterly issue 21, dubbed “Stories from the Gordon Lish Workshops.” It reads like a proto-type for The 1/4ly, with work by familiar Lish names and unknwon names alike (often first time publictions), such as Victori Redel, Christopher Coe, Peter Christopher, Yannick Murphy, etc.

We will comment in more detail in the next post (we are also reading Mark Rochard’s Ice at the Bottom of the World and will discuss as well)

I Look Divine – Christopher Coe

Christopher Coe was a Columbia student of Lish’s and in the same class was Amy Hempel, David Leavitt, and Anderson Ferrell, who happen o blurb ths book. While Lish was able to publish books by Hempel, Leavitt and Ferrell, he could not get approval from Gottlieb to acquire I Look Divine.

Ever resourceful, Lish was instrument in getting Widenfield and Nicholson, an imprint of Houghton Miflin at the time (and a British publisher that opened a New York office in the 1980s).

I Look Divine is a 109 page novella, maybe 20,000 words with the big type and wide margins and slender trim cut. Chances are without Lish it would have never found its way to print, at least not by itself and not in a journal or as part of a longer collection. That is not saying this novella is bad…no, in fact, it is beautfully brilliant, a prose poem really, and maybe one of the most unfortuanately ignored works of prose, and a writer, from the 1980s, even with a paperback reprint from Vintage’s prized trade paperback imprint of hip young lit.

It is a fne portrait of two brothers, with one writing about another: Nicholas is rich and uncommonly handsome and very egotistical, obsessed with his own beauty that leads to his self-destruction. The narrator, the older brother, tries to understand his brother and wonders how much of the delusion of the priviledged divine is also in him…and what, of their upbringing, has made them both so disfunctional?

Nicholas had brown eyes which, in many lights, looked black, He had extravagant black eyelashes that looked false, and dar hair that even in those years he was allowed to grow so long that he could drag his fingers through it and take almost forever to come out at the end.

[…]

I told him brains develop in the womb, that by being born too soon he had probaby lost points […] he looked up at me and said what he always did when he had more of me than he could take.

He sighed, “Oh, go to your womb.”

Much later that night, I heard my brother through the door, whispering to himself.  He must have been studying is face in the mirror when I heard him whisper, “You are the smartest little boy in the world, and you also look like this.” (pp. 23-24)

In a way, this could be qute the annoying read of rich kid’s narcissim and the reader could feel, as we do, nothing about his eventual death. The  perfected sentences are to be admired, and in many ways Coe reminds us of a young Truman Capote.

In Lish’s Lilly archives, there are letters and manuscripts from Coe, all nearlt typed on strangely thick, textured brown paper, unusual for a manuscript.

What happened to Coe? He died from AIDS complications in 1994. He was 41. He published one other novel in 1993, Such Times, from Harcourt Brace in the US and Hamish Hamilton in the UK.

While I Look Divine is an example of tight minimalism, Such Times is a work of maxilamislm, a 100,000 word tme that could have used Lish’s pen, yet is also a fine piece of writing and an intimate view of gay male relationships.

What the hell? you say.

What the hey, they say.

Why haven’t you been keeping up this fucking awesome blog?! you say.

We will, we say.

We are getting back to it, says we.

We go, Soon soon soon.

 

A Lish Quote for Winter Pondering

I have come to be convinced that it is only the unbending observance of custom that sustains life in an urban circumstance. — from What I Know So Far

Star Dust, 7-11, Route 57, A&W, and So Forth by Patricia Lear

This is probably one of the few Lish-connected first collections (outside Carver, Hannha, Hempel, Williams and Robison) that quicly went through three printings not long after the first edition first run.

And it’s no wonder, the eight stories in Lear’s book are elegant, eloquent, and wonderful.  Six appeared in The 1/4ly, one in The Antioch Review (where Lish is an adviser and ed-at-large), one original, and one, “Pow-wow,” made the O. Henrys.

But this was 1993, and there has not been another Lear or from what we can tell, a near Lear. She is on Facebook, teaches at the Uni. of Nebraska, stories pop up now and then…but we want more books! Publishers need to reprint this one and get another one out, do you hear us or are we whistlin’ dixie?

Lish @ a Stuffy Literary Par-tah

Note the sad young literary men in suits in the background…hey, am I seeing Bill Clegg around there smoking crack?

A Lish Quote for June 7!

Can anything on this paper be any other than your non-fucking-fiction on a stick? … Here, all you terrible people, eat fluent Lish’s speech — true, exact, not infrequently contractionless, forever figmented, but never once — not once! — free.  –from “Canto” South Atlantic Quarterly 103 (2004): 57-60.