on November 11, 2011
Although known primarily as a vehicle for poetry, there has been a substantial rise in the number of chapbooks featuring fiction. Foremost among them is Gary Lutz's 56-page collection of seven stories Partial List of People to Bleach (Future Tense Books, $6). Ominous, creepy, and mind-bendingly alert, Lutz lays out each of his perfectly crafted sentences with the sinister exactitude and obsessive care of Beckett's Molloy shuffling stones between his pockets. These musically-torqued, masterful sentences, bedecked with elegant syntax and the glint of a razor-sharp locution, accrue into an equally surprising and angular narrative, creating an explosively original combination--stories as muddy and dark in their exploration of domesticity as they are crystalline and celebratory in their structure and language. If Doctor Benjamin Spock in Baby and Child Care had advocated for something resembling the relationship between Edith and Edie Beale, made famous in the documentary Grey Gardens, one might be close to the familial reality of a Lutz story. Although both implicit and explicit polyamory, cruising, incest, and other situations lacking even nomenclature often form the backdrop for the emotional void and melancholy countenance of Lutz's downtrodden narrators, it is not so much that they explore what some might label deviance as it is that their narrations belie a world where normality is exposed for the exception that it is. Lutz never uses these situations for cheap shock value, since is often unclear if he's writing about sex, some larger metaphysical situation, or both: "There was relief in how quickly we could find the hardness in each other."
I read an unusual book of short stories yesterday. It's unlikely that you would come across it in the ordinary run of things -it was published as a chap book (folded and stapled instead of bound, etc.) and the author isn't anyone I'd heard of before. I came across it through cross-reference on Amazon. I'd posted a review of Ben Marcus's The Flame Alphabet (it came out in January) and was checking to see what else Marcus had published thta I'd like to read.
The name Gary Lutz was mentioned as having a somewhat similar, aggressively modernist approach to language and story telling. It turns out he does.
The book is entitled Partial List of People to Bleach. It contains seven stories in fifty-six pages. (He doesn't write long.) They're hard to describe, barely stories, more like scratchings on a wall by someone locked in a cell of his own devising. Lutz's use of language is quirky and, I find, riveting. He scrunches words together, changes the endings, etc. It's like his narrators are both super-literate (in their vocabulary) and not wholly literate at all, or maybe dyslexic as to nuance. His characters are all, without exception, losers. None of them win, even on the small stuff. The people they interact with, the sex they engage in (typically with both sexes in the course of the same story) is unsuccessful, dreary and unsatisfying. It's not even like Kafka or the poems of Paul Celan because these people's horizons and lives are too small. But it's strangely affecting and some of the sentences and images are emotionally charged and intensely poetic.
Dennis Cooper, whose own stories are unremittingly bleak and dirty, but likewise powerful --Cooper writes like a small scale Jean Genet-- praises Lutz. I'm going to order something else by him because he's the real thing.
on November 25, 2007
Lutz's sentence structures are always surprising and that style drives this brief collection. There's substance here too, but it's really the manner of telling that wins out. At times, it almost doesn't matter what the tales are about, you keep reading to see what unusual (but always precise) construction is coming up next.
Gary Lutz, Partial List of People to Bleach (Future Tense, 2007)
I picked up Lutz's chap Partial List of People to Bleach at, seemingly, exactly the right time; Stories in the Worst Way, his first collection (from all the way back in 1996), just got itself a paperback release from Calamari Press and has been getting mentions in every rag around the globe, it seems. People are rediscovering Gary Lutz, and paging through this slim volume, it's obvious why.
"Another night of roundabout apologizing, and she reached for a shoulder bag, not one of her regular daytime totles. She tipped it all out, fingered everything preservingly where it fell.
The whole business was already looking a little too votive to me.
First the smoot, the flaked razures and other collects, she had abstracted from the gutter between blades of an overemployed disposable shaver. (It had taken, she said, the edge of in index card to reclaim it.)
Then, in a mouth-rinse bottle, a few fluidal ounces of sea-blue slosh from a compress that had been used whenever there were immaculate agonies behind a knee.
And a smutched inch or so of adhesive tape from a homemade bandage, into which pores had confided their oily fluences."
("I Was in Kilter with Him a Little")
It's like Lydia Davis and Tao Lin had some sort of twisted, deformed offspring, except that Lutz is more talented than either of them. My only problem with it is that there's not more of this; I'll be picking up his other collections posthaste. This is well worth checking out, and for the price, how can you go wrong? *** ½