Gary Lutz is easily one of my favorite writers. I’ve read each of his collections at least twice, and I find myself revisiting stories from them from time to time; and I’ve sought out and found much, I think, of what has yet to be collected, like small pieces in various issues of The Quarterly, and elsewhere. There is, for instance, HEARTSCALD, collected at Sleepingfish, which is “constituted of phrasing from pieces by Lutz, as well as from interviews with him, that appeared first in The Believer, Bookslut, Detroit: Stories, The Quarterly, Sleepingfish, 3rd bed, and Wag’s Review.” And then there are Gary Lutz’s infamous letters to the editors of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, like one entitled “Borrowed Phrasing” from May 8, 1988, where he witheringly criticizes “Seen,” presumably the paper’s celebrity-sighting column: “The column’s weekly roll call—recorded in illiterate, sycophantic, cosmetology-school prose—does a handsome job of perpetuating the image of Pittsburgh as the city with a simper on its face.” (I suspect that these same editors edited away Lutz’s use of the serial comma in his letter before they published it.)
I just finished reading Divorcer (forthcoming this October from Calamari Press), and can happily report that the collection shows Lutz in perfect form. As I mentioned elsewhere about the book, it’s amazing to me how such dazzling, self-consciously, or perhaps better to say, self-conscientiously-crafted sentences can also unsettle. Like Lutz’s other books, Divorcer has so many twisted aphorisms, hilarious one-liners, mind-bending convolutions, and lapidary observations, all of which mangle conventional perceptions of body, heart, and mind. Lutz’s fictions capture the anomie bubbling out from the living smokestacks and bleary-eyed automatons within our post-industrial landscape, fictions often castigating what one of his narrator’s describes as “urgeful suburbal humanhood.”
A full review of the book from me is likely. In the meantime, here are some cherry-picked passages from these marvelous fictions:
As per never before, I wasn’t playing with myself, there was no sport to what I was doing, not even a satisfaction in the spurt, and no emotion coming to me off her in any way frontal.
“Shouldn’t the phrase ‘home away from home’ be of some upset to you?” the young man said. “Because your home home, your apartment, that lovebird of an apartment of yours next door, isn’t, to this way of thinking, your home, either? Might I inquire about your birthplace, if that isn’t too sickened a way to put it?”
From “The Driving Dress”:
What came after, in my case, was simply volumed time, time in solid form, big blocks of it to be pushed aside if I ever felt up to it, though more often than not I arranged the blocks about me until I had built something that should have been some sort of stronghold but in fact was just another apartment within the apartment in which I was already staying away from mirrors, shaving by approximation, bathing in overbubbled water that kept my body out of sight.
With each gift sent back, I wrote a different note on differently deckled notepaper but always to the effect that there were people bluntly evident to themselves in even their queerest of dreams, and there were people like us, who had to keep feeling ourselves out, looking for hints in all we had done, even when all we had done was discover that others had liked having us around only because our presence deepened their sense of having a place all to themselves.
From “To Whom Might I Have Concerned”:
What had shaped me was the discovery, at thirteen, that I could send my arm around my back and then make out, at my side, the fingers of a hand doing its damndest to reach me.
The backseat library was packed mostly with reference works, all hers: guides to symptoms and surgeries, emergency manuals, and that mighty lapful of a dictionary in which you could look up couple and find, beyond the cautiousness of the preliminary definitions, unsolacing confirmation that the word had for ages also meant not necessarily two but a quantity constituting more than one and as many as a few.
From “I Had to Feel Halved”:
Some nights my young man spoke up in his sleep—mostly solemnities, sometimes mostly spitten slang.
One day got chocked into the next: there was a blockiness to time, like a month’s evident rectangulation on a calendar tacked fast to a wall.
Then we were both reading the same book, but on different shifts. This was a leveling thing, a true story of a man’s ruin, boosted from the hospital’s lending library of no-joke literature of self-rescue. He read for just kernels, main points, alone, but carried the book into the bathroom with him. Brought it to our breakfast corner. Had it slammed open before him in bed while drawing things out from between his teeth or disporting a razor a final time for the night. The book accepted his shavings and flakes. They settled frankly into the narration. He kept at it until the book was autobiographically crudded, a sampler of his cells and immoderate bodywide mire.
Loss—I liked at least how the word started off laggardly enough, before sickening itself into all that sibilance.
Lutz’s extensive use of the negative prefix “un-” and his deft embedding of archaisms and neologisms has made my word-hoard from Divorcer necessarily, yet unsurprisingly, long:
unbursting, veriest, unfinished-looking, ungabby, breviated, revelational, lap-spanning, queering, uglifiers, tattooery, suckily, unwandering, anagrammable, squisses, unscared, soothant, hexahedral, florets, psoriasic, consequentia, uncitified, flippancies, warmingly, agitant, mouthy, spitty, apparitional, freakened, odd-fangled, lorn-looking, candified, putty-faced, punctilio, lunarly, loonery, abroil, sung-spoken, flauntily, oddments, underfrippery, cruddily, apartmentware, sievy, overshootings, looksiness, splittage, beauts, coarse-wrought, yonderous, undermatter, uneerily, down-voicedly, unrosy, aslop, unpreened, iffily, gladiolus, unvague, meeker-watted, holocaustically, uncushioning, delayedly, deckled, ungardened, creationally, weatherwise, scanted, steep-rising, slow-spirited, blood-gushing, cautioned-looking, steep-down, resortfully, unslumping, sodomizingly, knifewise, inverted-pyramid, cuttable, roughhouse-scarred, tellable, poundage, foofaraw, onfall, prettyisms, soonest, exhilarants, suddenty, fruitsome, uncomely, miscurved, dodged-looking, putty-colored, unrevelatory, prim-lipped, unharboring, slattern, summational, jittered, dissipative, unfeminine, murmury, monologically, havocking, blabby, unbeheld, unsolacing, undefended, overhumanized, overhumanized, undisguising, wreathening, exculpatory, suchnot, scantling, unfavoring, unnutritive, guckage, unrinsed, egger-on, unearthen, besooted, interofficial, chancy, chocolateless, befooled, hard-faced, indicia, lunchtide, smutched, deskscape, ridginess, abominated, pluttering, bosomal, bodefully, frumpled, shirker, balloonery, tumoral, benefaction, stinkard, disenamoring, slugabed, cloudages, inexplicit, fuller-witted, meekling, malodor, besetting, befrilled, greateningly, urgeful, suburbal, humanhood, undooming, perspiry, overfleshed, enlivenments, lukewarmth, trashery, sweatproof,salading, spitten, rimpled, pluffy, crumble-pattied, blockiness, rectangulation, azurean, finishedly, vague-waisted, neighbory, bashable, vesselled, effervescers, guttery, gropery, evidentiarily, flatting, orangely, fruit-fringed, chandeliered, long-sequestered, stoutened, afternote, plenished, demolitionary, tidy-toed, deterging, disporting, disporting, heavy-skied, lavatorians, ventilative, rucklings, baccalaureately, seclusive, mothery, fuller-fraught, loiny, pustuled, individuum, utopianized, otherwiseness, danglier, spermy, driblet, drablet, ghastful, whiffle-boned, innermore, swallowy, funnelly, insomniacally, ridiculable, foolings, wastingly, nasturtium, rumpus-assed, clodly, incessancy, unwomanesque, bescatter, skrinkled, abrawl, love-eaten, lipstickish, dirtless, thewiness, etherealities, bouilloned, potatoed, gravied, metalline, dividered, overcopious, particularings, allhood, bewildersome, slidder, parlanced
Check out my previous word-hoards:
- John Berryman: Poems Selected by Michael Hofmann: A Word-Hoard
- Wallace Stevens: Poems Selected by John Burnside: A Word-Hoard
- E. Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News: A Word-Hoard
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.