On Reading Dan Chaon’s “Falling Backwards” and Mary Gaitskill’s “The Arms and Legs of the Lake”: An Essay on Compassion

I’ve read about Dan Chaon and possibly have read other stories by him (because I’ve read many journals over many years, and he’s widely published in lit mags), but I recently purchased the collection, Among the Missing. I had read an interview and something he said, and I’m paraphrasing here — “I don’t understand how some people can devote themselves to excessive drinking and write…writing is destructive enough for me” — intrigued me. The idea that writing fiction is a destructive behavior is sensible enough, but the idea that someone “devotes” themselves to alcohol abuse perplexed me. In the article, he was a bit apologetic for the comment — again, I am paraphrasing here — saying something like, “sorry if that sounds unkind,” and also explained that he knows many “writers who do abuse alcohol.”

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