Remembering Thomas Glynn
May 7, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
We’re saddened to report that Thomas Glynn, a writer whose keen, mordant fiction appeared in The Paris Review, The New Yorker, and Playboy, died last weekend. When we say that very little is known about him, we mean that very little is googleable about him—having largely managed to evade the Internet’s All-Seeing Eye, Glynn has taken on a quasimythical obscurity. As of this writing, he hasn’t received a proper obituary.
We know he published three novels—Temporary Sanity (1977), The Building (1985), and Watching the Body Burn (1989)—the latter two with Knopf and the former with Fiction Collective. All three were well reviewed, and all three have fallen out of print. Later came a kind of hybrid called Hammer. Nail. Wood. The Compulsion to Build (1998), whose back cover recommends filing it under Home Reference/Nonfiction/Building. But its chapter titles imply a more contemplative blend of service and supposition. (E.g., “Iron and wood,” “Sex and wood,” “Do you really need a second floor?” “Put your fist through it and see if it’s still standing,” “Tools you may need and some you might not,” “How fast is a running foot?” and “The ruin of a perfectly good junkyard.”)
As those suggest, Glynn had a knack for titles. His three stories in The Paris Review were called “Except for the Sickness I’m Quite Healthy Now. You Can Believe That,” “Apondé, the Magnificent Times Two,” and “If I Don’t Phone, I’ll Call, or Something.” The first of those appeared in our 2012 anthology, Object Lessons, where it was introduced by Jonathan Lethem: “For Glynn, language may be the color blue that’s used in the place of all other colors: the paint that won’t actually let you see the painting, but can do absolutely anything you need it to do anyway.”
Hammer’s brief biographical note says that Glynn lived in Brooklyn and upstate New York. He wrote that he sometimes took on work as a carpenter:
I was looking for the perfect carpentry job, the job where the wood went together on the site as it had in my mind. Copernican carpentry with Aristotelian angles where the ideal and the real became one. This did not happen. One could be perfect in steel, one had to be perfect in steel, but wood … wood was too human. Wood swayed the way the mind swayed; it changed, warped, twisted, cracked, was full of hidden knots and recesses, cavities you couldn’t see on the surface the way you couldn’t see how the mind bubbled up strange conclusions when put under stress.
New Yorker subscribers can read Glynn’s 1981 story “Uncles” online. His disused Web site avers that “his eighteen-hundred-page novel on the first one hundred and fifty years of Dannemora prison, called The Cathedral of Time, is currently in the archives at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York.” We’re grateful for any information or memories our readers can share about him.