Click through to read the full review of Gary Lutz’s STORIES IN THE WORST WAY, the fortieth in this full-press review of Calamari books.
In a recent year-in-review post about finances for Calamari Press, a wonderfully honest annual divulging from Derek White, I learned that Gary Lutz takes it upon himself to personally ship all copies of Divorcer that are directly purchased from Calamari Press – which I found to be an unexpected and beautiful revelation. Unexpected because Gary Lutz is the patron saint of indie lit, perfect evidence of a writer staying the “small” press route while simultaneously making a name for himself on the national literary radar; Beautiful because here is an author who wants to literally touch his words before they go out into another’s hands.
Now I don’t know if Lutz personally ships copies of his previous collection from Calamari Press, Stories in the Worst Way, but I do know that Stories in the Worst Way is in print for the third time (Knopf, 1996; 3rd Bed, 2002; Calamari Press, 2009) because of its magical linguistic properties – and if the magician himself is touching the copies to boot, well then, that would be just one more reason in a thousand to get a copy of this book.
In Stories in the Worst Way, as in all of Lutz’s stories, what I find most amazing (and humbling) is his ability to use a wide and often challenging vocabulary inside of stories that are still absolutely fluid and impeccably readable. How can we all learn to use words, so many of the words, while never losing contact with the reader and his/her everyday vernacular? How? Study up on Lutz:
I was midway through my shadowed, septic thirties. I had been hired as a generalist. What I taught was vague and interdisciplinary and unchallengeable. What I said, it was bound to be correct up to a point. My credentials were fraudulent. I’d awelessly faked my way through a Midwestern graduate school with a dissertation two hundred and eighty-seven clawing, suffixy pages long, all of it embezzled from leaky monographs. Since then, I’d taught myself to mooch off nobody but myself.
The effect here is two-fold.
First: I come to understand that Lutz takes time with his writing; He crafts, he molds, he shapes and forms – he works words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and pages until they need no more work. He is a craftsman, an architect, an engineer, a designer. This is what makes his work so stunning and so full – the bright surprise of words.
Second: Lutz and his seemingly endless vocabulary is in the same Calamari Press catalog alongside Peter Markus, a writer best known for his use of simplistic and repetitive vocabulary – and yet Derek White was smart enough to acquire and publish both Lutz and Markus – understanding that there are boundless ways to posture words.
Lutz too, even within his own work, knows that this juxtaposition between vocabulary heavy and simplistic phrasing can have wondrous and powerful impact – after all, the story ‘Slops’ is, beneath it all, about shit:
I blinked and swallowed, hoisted smiles, poked at and beveled the block of beef on my plate. When he excused himself to rush off for a one-o’clock class, I sought out the dining-room men’s room, one that wasn’t on any of my regular campus tours. Unlike the nookish, single-person-occupancy arrangements I frequented (their hollow-board doors securing me from corridoral traffic only by their flimsy expedient of a hook and an eyebolt), this was a vast, modern affair with a line of urinals and three stalls. One of the latter was unoccupied, so, taking a seat, I busied myself with some noodling and valving, the virtually noiseless preliminaries, until, emboldened by the whoosh of a neighbor’s flush and satisfied that it would muffle the report of my own bowels, I splattered myself out.
This is not meant to pit Lutz against Markus, or even to make an aesthetic comparison between the two – in terms of skill, both Markus and Lutz completely amaze me – I merely want to point out that these are two vastly different approaches to literature printed by a single publishing house – a testament to the beauty of Calamari Press.
Purchase Gary Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way here.
Up next (& the final title in this full press review of Calamari Press): SLEEPINGFISH 8.
Glug, glug, glug.