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Posts Tagged ‘Joy Williams’

The Right Kind of Damage: An Interview with Colin Barrett

March 3, 2015 | by

colinbarrett

Photo courtesy of the author.

There’s a moment in “Car-Crash While Hitchhiking,” a story by Denis Johnson that first appeared in The Paris Review, in 1989, when a woman learns of the death of her husband and unleashes a terrible scream. The narrator, instead of expressing the expected sympathy, leans out of the page a little to offer this unnerving confession: It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere.”

Reading Young Skins, Colin Barrett’s debut story collection, can leave one with a similar sense of disturbed gratitude. The stories blend moments of horror with moments of hilarity, shocks of joy with shocks of despair, and no matter how grim a given scene by Barrett can get, it’s a thrill to be alive to hear him. In a restroom, under a naked bulb, we find “a lidless shitter operated by a fitfully responsive flush handle.” In a field, “crushed cans of Strongbow and Dutch Gold and Karpackie are buried in the mud like ancient artefacts.” A “big brown daddy-long-legs pedals airily in the sink basin,” its movements ”describing a flustered circle,” and a character named Bat cannot enjoy his dinner because a clan of kids is “eyeing the bulky hydraulics of his jaw.”

The vitality of Barrett’s prosethe special intensity of attention he’s able to draw from details of small-town lifehas already helped win him the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. To mark the U.S. release of Young Skins this month, I talked with him about his allergy to “lethally competent writing,” the details of character and language upon which he builds a story, and how a work of fictionlike the community it describescan develop “its shibboleths, its customs and codes, its own way of talking to itself.”

Were your earliest efforts as a writer very different to the stories collected in Young Skins?

I wrote and drew lots of gory comic books as a young kid and as a teen. Then I discovered and wrote lots of poetry around college age. Awful, sub-Ashbery, sub-Muldoon, sub-Eliot stuff, but at least it was writing. Then I attempted a few novels—multinarrator, genre-splicing Pynchonian or Foster Wallace sprawlers, usually set in alternate futures, though I never got more than a couple dozen pages in. I only started really writing stories at twenty-five. The early stuff was all, obviously, awful—but awful in a vital way. The wonderful thing about being completely inexperienced is the impregnable purity of your ignorance. You are utterly insensible to any conception of your own crippling and patent limitations, and so you try anything and everything. Read More »

Take a Walk with Our Summer Issue

June 2, 2014 | by

209That adorable canine on the cover is Boo, a shaggy brown Brussels griffon and an habitué of our old loft on White Street. Boo’s owner (and portraitist) is Raymond Pettibon, whose portfolio, “Real Dogs in Space,” is at the center of issue 209, fit for consumption in the dog days of summer.

Then there’s our interview with Joy Williams—whose stories have appeared in The Paris Review since 1969—on the Art of Fiction:

What a story is, is devious. It pretends transparency, forthrightness. It engages with ordinary people, ordinary matters, recognizable stuff. But this is all a masquerade. What good stories deal with is the horror and incomprehensibility of time, the dark encroachment of old catastrophes—which is Wallace Stevens, I think. As a form, the short story is hardly divine, though all excellent art has its mystery, its spiritual rhythm.

And in the Art of Poetry No. 98, Henri Cole discusses his approach to clichés (“I like the idea of going right up to the edge of cliché and then stopping”), his collages, and his contempt for the sentimental:

Oh, I hate sentimentality. Heterosexual men are more susceptible to it than women, because middle age keeps telling them they’re gods. This is not true for women, however, who are often discarded. Is it possible that we can more readily see the bleakness of the human condition if life has been a little harder for us? Nothing kills art faster than sentimentality.

There’s also an essay by Andrea Barrett; fiction from Zadie Smith, J. D. Daniels, Garth Greenwell, Ottessa Moshfegh, and Shelly Oria; the third installment of Rachel Cusk’s novel Outline, with illustrations by Samantha Hahn; and new poems by Henri Cole, Charles Simic, Ange Mlinko, Nick Laird, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, Les Murray, Adam Kirsch, Jane Hirshfield, and Thomas Sayers Ellis.

It’s an issue that, like Boo, commands immediate and frequent affection, and will keep you enthralled for years to come.

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3 Stories of God: 79, 80, and 93

June 7, 2013 | by

Cave-of-Despair

Benjamin West, The Cave of Despair, 1772.

This week, we will be running a series of pieces from Joy Williams’s 99 Stories of God. First published in The Paris Review in 1968, Joy Williams has since appeared in our pages many times. 99 Stories of God is her first book of fiction in nearly a decade and was written, she has said, partly in an attempt to imitate the inimitable Thomas Bernhard, that “cranky genius of Austrian literature,” and his The Voice Imitator: 104 Stories.

79

There was a famous writer who had a house on the coast. He was entertaining another writer for the weekend, this one less well known, but nonetheless with a name that was recognized by many. A third writer, whose husband had died unexpectedly only two days before, had also been invited for the evening. This was done at the last minute, an act of graciousness, as the woman was on her way south, on a trip she and her husband had long intended.

This writer was the least famous of the three. People couldn’t get a handle on her stuff.

The famous writer and his wife made fish baked in salt for supper. There were many bottles of wine. The third writer’s husband was remembered off and on, fondly.

Read More »

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1 Story of God: 71

June 6, 2013 | by

Irony-Paris-Review

Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

This week, we will be running a series of pieces from Joy Williams’s 99 Stories of God. First published in The Paris Review in 1968, Joy Williams has since appeared in our pages many times. 99 Stories of God is her first book of fiction in nearly a decade and was written, she has said, partly in an attempt to imitate the inimitable Thomas Bernhard, that “cranky genius of Austrian literature,” and his The Voice Imitator: 104 Stories.

71

A child was walking with a lion through a great fog.

“I’ve experienced death many times,” the lion said.

“Impossible,” the child said.

“It’s true, my experience of death does not include my own.”

“I’m glad.”

“I’ve had near-death experiences, however.”

“Quite a different matter,” the child said.

Read More »

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2 Stories of God: 13 and 50

June 4, 2013 | by

New-Mexico-Road

This week, we will be running a series of pieces from Joy Williams’s 99 Stories of God. First published in The Paris Review in 1968, Joy Williams has since appeared in our pages many times. 99 Stories of God is her first book of fiction in nearly a decade and was written, she has said, partly in an attempt to imitate the inimitable Thomas Bernhard, that “cranky genius of Austrian literature,” and his The Voice Imitator: 104 Stories.

 

13

It was May and in the garden they were drinking mango margaritas. Martha and Constance were discussing throwing an Anti–Mother’s Day party.

Martha says that in the movie A.I., there are seven words Monica uses to imprint the boy David. They are: Cirrus. Socrates. Particle. Decibel. Hurricane. Dolphin. Tulip. She is now his mother, and he will love her unconditionally and forever.

But he was a cyborg, she adds.

Constance becomes anxious when conversation deteriorates to talk of movies. She brings out her mother’s replacement knees, which she requested upon her mother’s cremation, though her husband, Jim, maintains that he was the one who requested them.

Laughing, Martha says that this is the most macabre thing she has ever witnessed in her life.

The heavy knees are passed around.

Later, Martha tells the story of the tenant in her Palm Beach condominium (willed to Martha by her mother) who committed suicide there by shotgun. It cost two thousand dollars to get the blood out of the carpets.

The other tenants of the condominium are annoyed at Martha because she didn’t come up right away from Key West to deal with the situation. Read More »

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3 Stories of God: 5, 6, and 7

June 3, 2013 | by

Le-Songe-Paris-Review

Louis-Léopold Boilly, Tartini’s Dream.

This week, we will be running a series of pieces from Joy Williams’s 99 Stories of God. First published in The Paris Review in 1968, Joy Williams has since appeared in our pages many times. 99 Stories of God is her first book of fiction in nearly a decade and was written, she has said, partly in an attempt to imitate the inimitable Thomas Bernhard, that “cranky genius of Austrian literature,” and his The Voice Imitator: 104 Stories.

 

5

At some point, Kafka became a vegetarian.

Afterwards, visiting an aquarium in Berlin, he spoke to the fish through the glass.

“Now at last I can look at you in peace, I don’t eat you anymore.” Read More »

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