RSS Feed

Category Archives: The Quarterly

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?

Interview in The American Story: The Best of StoryQuarterly

Cane Hill Press put this one out in 1990, back when Diane Williams was still an editor at StoryQuarterly and the magazine had a distinct feel to it (albeit strongly Lish-influenced).

The interview is conducted by Lish-writer Patricia Lear, whose sole Knopf book we are re-reading right this moment and will discuss soon.  She admits to being a tad frightened of talking to Lish, because of all the “things” she’s heard about him. He laughs and takes it in stride — he knows his reputation and he encourages these public images.

GL: I can’t imagine why. I’m a very mild fellow. (laughter)

PL: Well, from what people have said about you. Many, many stories circulate. And last night, Iwas amazed at the love you put out. That’s what struck me first. The intensity that you want this to work, and te caring about these people, the writers in the room. I didn’t expect that. I thought it would be the kind of thing where your students had to “earn” you. An uphill battle.

GL: Well, I expect that, not unlike any extraordinary event, if I may characterize what goes on in that room an extraordinary event, those who are not present for it are inclined to develop rather inaccurate notions of what goes on. One has to be there.

 

 

Another interview included is with Anne Beattie, who was once a Lish student at Yale, and while Lish tried like bats to get Beattie into Esquire, it was a no-go with Howard Hays. Lish was, of course, please as peaches in a peach jar when Doubleday made the bold move of publishing her first novel and first collection on the same day…

Lishy writers Yannick Murphy and Leon Rooke are also included in this nifty neat anthology of a bygone era.

The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing – Michael Hickins and the Lish Connection

One of Michael Hickins’ stories from The 1/4ly issue 13, “Summer Romance,” has stuck in our mind like old bubbergum on a used Reboks, a story we have re-read many times over the years, have read out out loud to family and lovers and enemies alike…and why? It’s a fine story, but is it great? Perhaps, when we first read it in 1989, we were in a place of life that resembled the events in Hickins’ story.

Every 1/4ly Hickins story was a treat from then.

We must have missed the 1991 publication date of The Actual Adventures of Michael Missing, because we did not find a copy, or bought one, until a decade later, in a remainder bin…a fine specimen of cover art by the unsinkable Chip Kidd, who did many wonderful covers for half of Lish’s Knopf books, plus 1/4ly covers.

Most of the nine stories in this slim volume (127 pages) were first seen in The 1/4ly; Lish had the manuscript since 1987 and its trip to a 1991 publication was no easy task, for writer and editor.  The stories may seem “different” from what Lish usually acquired, their atmosphere and sensibility grounded in the hardboiled crime genre, but with a slipstream feel, transcending the genre cubbyhole.

One might categorize this volume as a novel told in stories, akin to Sam Michel’s Under the Light that Lish published in 1991.  The nine tales are all told by “Michael,” a young man whose adventures include playing baseball, wielding a gun, having incestuous moments with aunts and cousins, and other kinky sexual encounters.  To say “coming of age” would not be untrue. Look at this from “The Last Donna” and how young Michael narrates the beginnings of his fetish for a woman’s feet:

The next time, Mrs. Klein seemed to know what I wanted.

“Take your pants off,” she ordered.

She lifted her dress over her head and kept hr bra, red panties, and pumps on.

“Is this what you want?”

“Yeah,” I croaked.

She pointed her foot at me and said, “Lick it with the shoe on.”

I licked th smooth red varnish on the big toe, and then the instep laced with thin blue veins. Then I took off her shoe.

“I know just what you want,” she said, wiggling her toes just out of reach of my lips. (p. 67)

In “Summer Romance,” MM pontificates about a group in a community house in San Francisco:

They talked as if the 60s were still going on.

No.

They talked as if everything had just ended. As if there were fresh scores to be settled. As if it still mattered who was right. As if apathy was still the major obstacle we were all talking about.

Nostalgia for when they were just starting to be nostalgic.

Rubbing the sands of time in old wounds.

Hey, you people had your chance. You blew it. Fuck you. Move over. You had the right idea. Now let me at it.  (p. 84)

The book ends with a longish story, “The Profound Convictions of Michael Famous,” where a ten-year-old Michael seems to work as a hitman — who would ever suspect a kid? Or is he a kid? Maybe he just looks young, and he ages a year every week.

Later that day, an old cart lady told me the end of the world was coming.  I was pretty excited. It was something I didn’t want to miss […] I went to bed and tried to keep my eyes open. I didn’t even know what the end of the world was supposed to look like. (p. 111)

We had the chance to correspond with the actual Michael Missing (and Michael Famous) a few years ago. He told us the curious adventures the manuscript of this book took, and how through Gordon Lish, he became a husband and a father…with his kind permission, we reprint the email Mr. Hickins sent, one that we are sure you will find informative and entertaining:

 Gordon Lish used to teach at Columbia when I went there, both in college and grad school (79-83; then 84-86), and he had a rep for being a real asshole and not helpful to writers who didn’t suit his idiosyncratic style, so I avoided him studiously. I lived in France from 85/86 through 1997. I wrote the Michael Missing stories there and started trying to sell the collection. I would get rejected and write back to the editor saying, “well, thanks for reading; thanks for saying this is good but not for you; who do you think it might be good for if not you?” They would always reply with a name, and I would write to that person, saying so and so suggested I send this to you. Eventually I sent it to someone at Dell, a Jane something, and I said, I’ll be visiting NY in September, so I’ll drop by and see you. I guess people felt obligated to deal with me nicely because I was living in France. Anyway, she met me with the same story and suggested I send it to Gordon. “He likes young writers,” she said.

He later told me he called her to thank her for sending me along. “She said, ‘oh I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever read, but I didn’t know what to tell him, so I sent him over to you.'”

Gordon loved telling me that story.

He often asked me to take his classes–he said he wouldn’t charge me–but I never took him up on the offer. I had a kid in France to support and, besides, I was still wary of him getting too far inside my head.

But we got along very well for a time, and he of course supported my writing. He told me that he paid me more for my stories than anyone else (it was $100 rather than $50), and he really went to the mat for me once Sonny Mehta took over at Knopf. They did not get along. After awaiting approval for my book, Gordon finally told me he wrote Sonny a memo saying that unless he heard otherwise, he was going to go ahead and publish the book. And that’s what happened.
Aside from Backswing of the Slugger, and the final Michael Famous story, both of which he edited and cut back a little, he left most of my stories completely untouched.

When MM came out in the spring of 91, I came to NY to do a reading he had arranged for me at the New York Public Library. There must have been two dozen people present, including folks who came to see the other person on the program read, and a few homeless people who were sleeping. My agent at the time was Kim Witherspoon (Gordon recommended me) and she brought a few of her clients–Bill Tester, Peter Christopher, Diane Desanders among others.

We all went out for drinks afterwards, and Diane, who had written a story called “The Fucking Fuck I used to Fuck,” approached me and said her “race car driving, French speaking daughter” and her wanted to open a restaurant in France, and could they come and buy me dinner and pick my brains about living in France and such.

I said sure, and that fall they came and I met Molly. Now, at the time, I was in the middle of breaking up with my son’s mother, so nothing came of that except for dinner. But a year later, I went back to NYC for vacation and called Diane to reciprocate and ask her out to lunch. She offered to make me lunch at her place instead, and said that Molly was around and invited her too. During lunch, we talked a little about Gordon because Diane was taking his class, and he was acting strangely, and wouldn’t pull the trigger on her book. He kept asking her for the key to her apartment. She’d say, ‘what do you want it for Gordon?’ and he’d say, ‘you know what I want it for Desanders.’ No I don’t, tell me, and so forth.

Well, I walked Molly home after lunch and that was the last anyone saw of me that week. We decided to get married and do the restaurant thing together. I had an appointment with Gordon and went to see him, of course, flying high on sex fumes and other delirium. I sauntered into his office and plopped myself on a chair. “Hey Gordon! You’ll never guess whom I’m going to marry and open a restaurant with! Molly Elliott, Diane Desanders’ daughter!”

At which point Gordon half-rose from his chair behind the desk, pounded his fist on the table and said, “How come you get to have the daughter and I can’t get the mother?”

I kind of laughed and maybe we changed the subject. He hustled me out of his office pretty quickly. Next manuscript I sent him (he asked me to write a novel instead of stories because “that’s where the big dogs piss”), he returned with just a scribbled ‘Good luck in the restaurant business. –G’ on a Knopf-headed note.

Back in the US in 97, Diane invited me to a party at 4 Walls 8 Windows to celebrate the fact that they had signed Gordon to a book deal for X number of books. I went up to him and said hello, and he said, “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

That was the last time I saw him, and it really hurt my feelings, because he really acted like he’d never seen me before in his life, and to me, well, he was the only person who ever validated that I was a good writer. It’s been very hard since then, because I’ve probably written 4 or 5 novels that could have been but haven’t been published. I finally published one of them myself. Sometimes I think Gordon published me because he was crazy, or because he was trying to prove a point, either to Sonny, or with the Q experiment, to the publishing industry as a whole, that literature is this giant fabric and that it can be more than the handful of people that they deign to accredit.

We have heard similar accounts, of Lish not publicly remembering writers he knew in the past, helped, published, defiled…is it faulty memory or part of Lish’s iconosclasticism?

This is Not the Way We Came In – Daryl Scroggins

The first mention of Daryl Scroggins — at least for the literary Lish world — was in a profile of Lish in GQ, 1988 or 89, we believe, having seen it, a small profile, with a photo of Lish at a desk, a dozen copies of Leon Rooke’s Shakespeare’s Dog on a shelf…when asked who was the hot writer on Lish’s mind, Lish said (and we paraphrase from memory): “Daryl Scroggins…he sent me a story, a woinderful story, and I’ve asked him to send everything he has.” (The exact quote and issue of GQ would be appreciated, please leave in comment box.)

His first contribution to The 1/4ly was “The Hounding” in #12, “Oracle” in #14, and “A Few Small Adjustments” in #20.

Scroggins did not have a Knopf book like we had hoped.  he published a few short books of prose, Oracle and Winter Investments, now hard to find; poetry collections The Entropy of Hunters and The Game of Kings; the latest being this This is Not the Way We Came In, from Ravenna Press (2008), edited by Cooper Renner, containing 29 “flash” fictions and one “flash novel” in the form of 20 small sections — a format similar to Diane Williams’ The Stupefication.

Only one, “Oracle,” is from The 1/4ly, others originally appeared is a variety of journals, from Carolina Quarterly to Pearl and Salt Hill.

See a poem here. Did we say “see”? Yes, you gaze, but with the gaze you also read.

Of particular interest is the flash novel, “Prairie Shapes.”  Unknown characters, a boy, woman, a man, live small time life, on a farm, and dream of mythology and journeys beyond their simple lives. Indeed, the piece reads like an allegory. It won an award and was published originally in Quarter After Eight.

We present “Oracle” from The 1/4erly #14 so you can see what a fine author Scroggins is:

Oracle

“You don’t have to sing to know what birds are for.” That’s what Mama said, but she’s dead now.
I’ve got others:

“Dark thoughts live in the fire.”

“All that’s comely might have wently.”

That last one was from when she had already gone to live in the home.

She told me once, “Doug, you need to tie a string to what you’re about to forget and reel it back in.” I wish it was that easy–especially since I’m not young anymore myself. I remember our old address, and it’s been torn down. There’s no reeling that one back in. It had wood floors and high ceilings. I was about three once and sick in bed. I looked up at a window–a square of blue sky–and when I went to sleep, I dreamed only about that blue square. Some things stay with you.

My wife, Joyce, says that a woman at her work’s husband drove home from work and kept driving until he ran out of gas and had to call somebody to come get him. He didn’t even know where he was. They tried to say it was some kind of brain problem, but we all knew it was nerves–I mean, my God, the man teaches at a public school.

Now Joyce has started looking at me funny, just because I’ve taken to writing a diary. She said she never heard of anybody starting a diary by going back fifty years and trying to catch up. But I just think things ought to be complete, and I have a system. I have a notebook for each year, and when I remember something, I simply find the right notebook and write it down. Now, what’s strange about that?

I do have two problems, though. I realized the other day that, long before I get all these other notebooks filled, I will have started recording good finds from the past in this year’s diary. And since I’ll have to say something now about what I remember from then, I’ll start to have two entries for everything. This is just asking for confusion.

My other problem has to do with something almost philosophical. I was flipping through one of the notebooks I’d just made an entry in the other day–just fanning the pages real fast without reading anything–and I noticed that a bunch of white pages would flip by, and then a short group of darker pages with writing, then more white, and long or short dark, and more white, and so on and so forth. Now, I wonder: Could this be some kind of bar code? A bar code of life? I scanned through all the notebooks, and it sure looks like one. But I’m still waiting for what it all means to rise up in my mind.

I really don’t have anybody to talk to about this. Every time I present an idea of this magnitude to Joyce, she starts to giggle. Now, Mama would have had something insightful to add.

I just know I’m on to something big.

Nightwork – Christine Schutt

What can we say about Christine Schutt that would correctly transmit to you that we have, over the years, simply been in awe of her work, from her appearances in The 1/4ly, her first book with Knopf, her other books with TriQuarterly Books and Harcourt, her connection to NOON, etc etc.

Nightwork was recently reprinted by Dalkey Archive Press, which has re-released a number of writers with a Lishy smell: Diane Williams, Ben Marcus. While we love Dalkey Archive, the original Knopf edition in hardback is available for cheap prices from many oline booksellers and we prefer the look and feel of that edition, 129 pages with 17 stories, 10 of which appeared in The 1/4ly, two in Lish-guest-edited issues of StoryQuarterly and The Alaska Quarterly.

Nightwork was another one of the titles orphaned at Knopf, not seeing print until March 1996, with cover flap not written in Lish’s electric style but rather dull-ish from some unknown editorially assistant at random House.

And some of the themes…well, there is family, always family with Lish…but also unashamed matters of incest, between fathers and daughters, mothers and sons.

She was out of practice, and we wanted practice, so they started kissing each other, and they  called it practicing, this kissing that occurred to him […]  “Like this?” the boy asked, and the mother said, “Yes.” (“What Have You Been Doing?”)

A friend of a friend had a place for them to go in  a big enough town where a lot went unnoticed but her father said, “No, I don’t feel like kt today.” … “No,” her father said. “No, I have no place to keep it. “Just let me kiss you,” he said, and she did. Arms crossed and eyes shut tight in the cold of the car, she moved a little closer to him and waited for the blow. (“You Drive”)

The titles have Lish-y titles, the kind you might find in Carver, Hannah, Kaufmann, Christoper, etc., from “What Have You Been doing?” to “Steven, Patrick, Michael, John” and “Goodnight, Sweetheart.”

Reviews were favorable and mixed. Kirkus Reviews wrote:

A debut collection made up of 17 stories (or, in some cases, slivers of story) told in voices flattened by despair. The narrators here are mostly nameless, and the uneasy territory of their subject matter cannot readily be labeled. In the opening piece, “You Drive,” a grown daughter and her father cross the boundaries of any usual parent-child relationship as they sit in a car, sharing secrets, kissing and memorizing the smell and texture of one another’s skin. In “What Have You Been Doing?,” it’s a mother and son who kiss: “She was out of practice and he wanted practice. . . . In the middle of rooms she obliged, in her bedroom, his bedroom, a kissing done standing, her hands on his shoulders, his not quite on her waist, heads tilted, mouths open.” Another mother, in “Teachers,” tells her daughter details about her lover while the girl yearns to get away, begging to be allowed just to go off to school. The spareness of Schutt’s prose, in combination with her elliptical storylines, can make certain pieces (notably “Giovanni and Giovanna” and “His Chorus”) difficult to decipher at all. But when she works with more accessible themes, the results are powerful, as in “Daywork,” where two adult daughters guiltily clean out the attic of their mother’s house as she lies dying in the hospital, and “To Have and To Hold,” as a spurned wife acts upon her anger and grief in her tiny and terrifyingly tidy kitchen. Schutt is good at small, sharp moments, and she chooses words with the care of a poet. But effective as some of these tales are, others feel fragmentary, incomplete. Taken all together, they’re finally overwhelming in the uniform grimness of their point of view. Razor-sharp writing in stories sliced a little too thin–and admittedly close to the bone.

An Amazon.com customer opined:

Although distrubing or startling at moments, it is the freshness and curt wording that illuminates the underlying themes running throughout of childhood innocence and naivety clashing with the malevolance of reality.

Schutt is a good example of life after Lish. Her novel Florida (told in short flashy chapters) was a 2008 National Book Award finalist.

Editing with a Butcher Knife

Young Bethany Taylor at Towson University recently put her documentary project, “Gordon Lish: Editing with a Butcher Knife,”  up on YouTube.  None of the information is new, it’s all on-line, images and info, but it is still a peachy-keen nifty little doo-daad…

Where the Road Bottoms Out – Victoria Redel

Victoria Redel was a frequent 1/4erly contributor, Lish student, and amazing craftswoman of the sentence…there seems to be this little cabal she, Dawn Raffel, Christine Schutt and Noy Holland created toward the last years of Lish’s reign as Captain Fiction.

Nine of the 16 stories in this volume were originally published in the 1/4erly, two others in the Lish-quest edited issues of The Antioch Review and The Alaska Quarterly Review, one in Missouri Review, four original.

Like many Lish writers, and Lish himself, many of the stories center on the family: interactions of small children with parents and grandparents, of grown children with elderly parents.

Here are a trio of first sentences that show what kind of writer Redel is:

It is a mean thing, I know, to tell my mother to think about the pigeoned-in foot that drags on in the street between us. (title story)

They would bury all of her if she let them, and she has let them on days when the sand is permissibly warm and it feels to her like it could do her some good. (” Day in the Park”)

I laid down in the middle, in the crack between their pushed-together beds. (“Soul to Take”)

Redel’s next book, which we will discuss later, called Loverboy, although published by Graywolf Press, has Lish’s influence and maybe editing all over it. She has also come out with two books of poems.  Her latest, The Border of Truth, has a more maximalist feel to it.