The Daily

In Memoriam

Remembering Thomas Glynn

May 7, 2014 | by

glynn body

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.




  1. A concerned bystander! | May 8, 2014 at 8:40 am

    Oh, God! All these “academic books” just keep on piling up!

  2. A touched heart | May 8, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    What an honor to have known you and been able to laugh and joke with you at Thanksgiving.You made me feel like part of the family when my own was far away. I regret your passing and wish I spent more time learning about your hobbies and your gift of writing.Your body may have been left behind but your heart goes on inspiring others. Be rested, my friend. Rest from all the pain.

  3. Thomas McGonigle | December 30, 2014 at 10:41 pm

    I taught with Thomas Glynn at John Jay College CUNY in the early90s fresh comp he signed a copy of THE BUILDING for me and was surprised that someone had read his novel… Lish had been his editor at Knopf… he got fed up with teaching when the registrar from one of the other CUNY schools called to tell him they had changed the grades of a student as they had decided to do so… he was not allowed to say anything… the guy had to pass at some level or other… of course at JJC no one knew he wrote books really.. passing ships… he then did the book about the burning father and then the self help construction book… he played no games i doubt anyone will read this and the books are really gone…i was thinking of him tonight 30 Dec 2014 as i bought the remaindered Paris Review book on the short story where one of his stories his commented on by Jonathan Lethem…. they had it at ST MARKS… nice that the Paris Revie is interested in Glynn and my old friend Pati Hill also now dead.. though you all have never shown any interest in my books from Dalkey Archive of all places or in my other writings…

  4. Jack O'Connell | January 18, 2016 at 5:15 pm

    Here is some info on the death of Thomas Glynn:

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