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Stories in the Worst Way Paperback – March 15, 2009
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Gary Lutz is a sentence writer from another planet, deploying language with unmatched invention. He is not just an original literary artist, but maybe the only one to so strenuously reject the training wheels limiting American narrative practice. What results are stories nearly too good to read: crushingly sad, odd, and awe-inspring. --Ben Marcus
Gary Lutz is one of the rarest and purest of our treasured literary artists. His authentic language conquers any habit of speech. Let the reader prepare for the first known examples of the most crucial and intimate matters of the heart and mind. --Diane Williams
What can I say? This is the book. These are the stories, the sentences. Get ready for awe, for envy, for love. Gary Lutz is as funny and original a writer as we have in the language. Consider this, as Lutz would say, a ''household fact.'' --Sam Lipsyte
From the Inside Flap
Whether unfolding within the fluorescent glare of the office or in educational cloisters in the present-day United States, these crucial, often darkly hilarious arraignments and instigations place before us a parade of marital defectives, self-terrorized apartment house solitaries, shifty professors, sleep-sickened homework graders and indexers--all running through the heart's entire repertory in pursuit of a fitting catastrophe of the self.
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The problem with this collection of not-quite-forty stories--the longest of which is ten pages, many of them only one or two--is that, time and time again, Gary out-Lutzes himself. Those techniques he offers in "The Sentence Is a Lonely Place" for enlivening sentences are present in most every sentence here--he certainly practices what he preaches--but after a while, it begins to seem less witty or inventive than programmatic. With every sentence striving for firework status, the paragraphs (and, by extension, the bizarro stories they construct) come to seem like cramped and joyless spaces, gummed up by all the fussy verbiage.
For instance, a brief, four-sentence paragraph from "Recessional":
"She had a strapping, hoydenish body. She maintained a sunlamped handsomeness. But she was hygienically delinquent. I wondered what my predecessors had made of the ashtrayish, perspiry nimbus she almost always hazed around herself."
That's not one but two -ish constructions ("hoydenish," "ashtrayish"), an -y construction ("perspiry"), another adjectived noun ("sunlamped"), and the verbed noun "hazed." The off-kilter adverb/adjective combo, also a stylistic hallmark of Lutz's, is there in "hygienically delinquent," a phrase designed, like all the rest, to arrest readerly attention. If this were a lone instance, the overdone cleverness might be cool--it often IS cool. But the stream of one anonymous narrator after another, each of them voicing Lutz sentences, does damage to the individual moments that succeed. The more stories you read, the less these narrators seem like attempts to represent human consciousness; they are the sad and anonymous delivery systems of Lutz's style. They are utterly indistinguishable from one another and thus totally forgettable. This is irritatingly brought home, above all, by the fact that they all utter another compulsive Lutzism, something you might call the crypto-postmodern koan of the self. Some examples:
"What I am saying is that through all this, all through this, I was only loosely in the midst of myself ..." (pg 70).
"Most nights, I was not so much living my life as roughing out loose, galling paraphrases of the lives being lived in the adjoining apartments and hallways." (pg. 17)
"What could be worse than having to be seen resorting to your own life?" (pg. 7)
"I was a great many far cries from myself." (pg. 80)
Again, taken individually, such epigrammatic sentences are gems. But nearly every one of thirty-odd stories has at least one such utterance, and some of the very short ones are comprised of basically nothing but them. Everything with Lutz is too much of a good thing and too little of many other good things (I start to take on his intonations when I describe his writing). The stories are effectively just streams of aphorisms about the self and its detachments, punctuated by odd, interesting, but not quite "telling" local details. The truly clever Lutz-a-riffic stuff--"his extracubicular life," and "she gave me a stay-thither look"--get lost in the relentless quest to make every sentence quirky and indelible.
Other writers of the Lish school--Sam Lipsyte, Christine Schutt (both writers Lutz reveres and writes about in "The Sentence Is a Lonely Place")--often achieve the kind of rigorously interesting sentences that Lutz writes but build narratives that are more than loosely hung-together streams of sentences. Lipsyte is a hilarious dark-comic writer, oddly sweet beneath his bleakness, while Schutt achieves a hypnotic, oneiric effect in virtually every story of her collection Nightwork. There is humor in Lutz, but of the driest and most mirthless variety. The stories feel disjointed and random without striking me as dream-like in a good way--none of the Freudian uncanny here.
I debated whether to give this book three stars or four. I finally settled on three because, for readers who are (or wish to be) writers, this book probably deserves a four--there is much to be learned about the integrity of word-by-word, comma-by-comma sentence crafting. For readers who are not and do not wish to someday be writers, I'd honestly discourage reading this book--a one- or two-star book for the laywoman or -man. The stories may not be in the worst way, but they are stories in the loosest way; narrative drive, character development--even character names--are the kind of old-hat literary equipage that Lutz would probably eye-rollingly dismiss, and several of these uniformly grim little ditties are straight-up repugnant (I'm thinking especially of "The Pavilion" and "Contractions").
For the interested, it's a book best taken in small doses. I like to read a story or two just before I write, or if I'm taking a break during a writing session. They can jumpstart one's sense of the possibilities of language, which is a valuable and admirable thing.
NOTE TO AMAZON: Please get rid of the ridiculous 'buttons' you require be clicked by reviewers of stories and novels. You make us choose from three characterizations ("predictable" , "some twists" or "full of surprise") that are fairly irrelevant to anything but thrillers and mysteries. I don't enjoy being compelled to evaluate literary fiction as if plot mattered more than everything else. I'm sure you don't mean to express either philistinism, or contempt for those of us who enjoy non-genre fiction, but that's the implicit message
That's at the visceral level.
At the sentence level, he tries very hard and often to be clever, but only about one of every four or five attempts actually succeeds. It is simply not worth reading three or four badly done sentences or phrases to get to the good one. I appreciate the care he has taken with the writing, the drive to write as few banal or unoriginal sentences as possible, but I think he would do much better employing this method in poetry, particularly since these are not stories--they are more like test tubes for words. Indeed, the way they work is closer to poetry than to fiction--not through plot or character development or action or choices the characters make but almost entirely through wordplay. Consequently, I never have the sense of being in a story; I never have the sense I am anywhere but in a sticky language web; that is, I am always aware that "this is writing" because it is so self-conscious and often slips into pretentiousness. One really does not need to say "sororally" when the word "sisterly" already exists. It's just unnecessary ostentation. (Ostentation does come in handy from time to time.)
I really think Lutz missed his calling. All of these words twisted into uncomfortable positions, all of these neologisms, all of these odd syntactical constructions he labors on to dubious effect would be much more appreciated in poetry. I'm not seeing I would enjoy it if it were poetry--I don't think I would--but it would make much more sense.
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I'll keep this brief, so you can stop reading MY blurb as quickly as possible, and get straight to where you SHOULD be, and that's READING GARY...Read more
Well..I am not an official expert 'reviewer of literature' so I don't won't declare this as GOOD or DRIVEL, since I don't know officially what makes or breaks...Read more