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The Big Other (Skype) Interview #71: Dave Kress

Way back on October 6, I tried a bold experiment for Lake Forest College: a Skype reading/discussion with former chemist/adhesive inventor and person extraordinaire Dave Kress, author of the challenging and wonderful novel Hush (Mammoth Books, 2010).

Kress beamed in to converse with my fiction-writing workshop, and I present the results below in five installments. The first has Kress reading from Hush, and the other four—with the occasional awkward transition—offer a scintillating question-and-answer session on everything from Duckpin bowling and the body-as-machine to Dave’s old band opening for The Pixies. I offer my trademark wisecracks and interjections, while the students get a chance to speak with Dave (in)directly through the medium of the screen.

So, stop everything and check out the embedded videos below.

Before that, I offer some background on Kress and Hush.

Here’s the promo copy:

Let’s just write once and for all that I’m dumb and let it go at that. Okay? So writes Suster Reanne Mone, one of two known members of the Church of God the Silent and sporadic freshman at Bristol County Community College. Beset by a series of personal tragedies, the teenaged Reanne finds herself living destitute, drunk, and alone in her heap of a K-Car amidst the ramshackle, podunk village of Awnry, Mass. Spared from an early demise by her old chum, the iterative gamine Penny, Reanne finds salvation of sorts in the mystic washing machine tinker Clloyd Shoop. To make sense of the harrowing events that both precede and follow her encounter with Shoop, Reanne pens this outrageous, sexualized, hysterical, and highly personal bible Hush! In it, we trace not only Reanne s struggles for personal redemption, but her effort to overcome both the limits of religion and the limits of language of which all religion is made to find a space in which the unsayable may, blessedly, remain unsaid.

I am familiar with Kress’s work in a number of capacities. We met years ago at Penn State (He, the dashing chemist-turned-grad-student. Me, the dashing young undergrad,) and I was impressed, to say the least, by his debut novel Counting Zero.

Later, his story “The Law” appeared in The &NOW AWARDS: The Best Innovative Writing (&NOW Books, 2009). Prior to that, I visited Kress’ academic home, the University of Maine, as a visiting author in the fall of 2008. I was impressed with Kress’s intellect on my visit, not only in his deft handling of student questions, but also in his keen insight into contemporary fiction. We spoke at length about the “state of the art,” and the role of innovative literature as a viable aesthetic position.

Thus, it was with great pleasure that I read Hush. This is a novel I not only like, but also one I admire.

Hush takes as its narrator the compelling character of Suster Reanne Mone, a cipher of sort for the white-trash culture that serves the backdrop for the novel. Reanne manages to sustain Kress’s mélange of cultural detritus into a cohesive narrative, held together by the strength of her voice. This is no mean feat, particularly as Kress has written not only a believable female character, but also he has made her into a self-aware actant keenly reflexive of her socio-economic status—and thus aware of her perhaps limited field of opportunity. Reanne is not over-educated, and yet she dances on the precipice of the under-educated minds around her, becoming enthralled by a cult of personality.

In this case, though, the object of her affection is one Cloyd Shoop, primary in the Church of God the Silence, who purports to be the creator of the universe. As unlikely as this story sounds, even more so when Cloyd’s Manichean conflict with his nemesis exhausts itself, Kress’s strength is not solely in the bizarre-but-familiar reins of his themes and obsessions. On one level, Hush is a book possible only in this particular political moment: when global conflicts manifest at the local level in surprising ways. Yet, Reanne as narrator, with her metafictive writing style and her mastery of a text-message -inspired shorthand, suggests a structural importance for Kress’s work that well exceeds the subject matter.

In this, in the structural component, I rank Kress as one of the most interesting writers working in the field. In Hush, Reanne comes to write a quasi-biblical narrative of her experiences with Cloyd, and so in the mutability of her prose style—with its nods toward text-messaging culture and its constant method of build-up and erasure—Kress creates a synthetic bible of shards and fragments, an holy book soldered together from the broken linguistic elements that have come to dominate a world populated by reality television and two multi-year international wars.

Reanne’s personal bible, which is in fact the text of Hush, bubbles and froths at the nexus of language, culture, and religion—undermining the latter two terms through a thorough unwriting of the first.

This doesn’t convey anything more than an abstract sense of the intensity and reach of Kress’s text, so onto the videos for a better sense of one of the most interesting novelists of the day.

Part 1: The Reading–and first few seconds of q + a.

Parts 2-5: Dave discusses everything in the world and solves your problems.

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