Posts Tagged ‘Rivka Galchen’
October 27, 2014 | by Dwyer Murphy
David Gordon’s fiction doesn’t fall comfortably into one category. Depending on what you’re reading and who you’re talking to, he might be a mystery writer, a postmodernist, a satirist, or a hybrid. His new collection, White Tiger on Snow Mountain, runs an impressive gamut. Its cast is large and varied—there are gunmen, grad students, investigators, vampires, struggling writers, Internet sex trolls, and men named David Gordon. (One of these stories, “Man-Boob Summer,” first appeared in The Paris Review’s Fall 2012 issue.) Gordon’s sentences are crisp and often jarring. His plots unspool in strange, sometimes disturbing ways. There’s little to be gained in trying to situate yourself according to generic conventions; better just to enjoy the disorientation and to trust that you’re in the hands of an earnest storyteller.
I met with Gordon, who has also published two novels, on a Friday afternoon in Brooklyn. School was letting out next door, but Gordon’s booming voice carried over the two-thirty hysteria. We spoke over the course of the afternoon about repurposing genres, literary stardom in Japan (the Japanese translation of his first novel, The Serialist, was a major success), the risks of first-person storytelling, and the publishing-industry controversy swirling around him.
White Tiger on Snow Mountain is your first story collection. Did you approach the stories differently than you would a novel?
In conceptual terms, I do think there’s a difference, at least for me. A story usually comes into my mind like a three-dimensional object—something I can see and feel and rotate. I’m often completely wrong about what the object is, but it’s still there. Whereas a novel is more like a set of directions for a road trip to California, with a planned stop in, say, Colorado and a visit to the Grand Canyon. The truth is I have no idea what’s going to happen along the way or whether I’ll even get there, but I have this general sense of direction and an end I hope to reach.
Now that the stories are completed and assembled, are you surprised at any of the themes or images that crop up?
I wrote these stories over a period of years, so some of the thematic echoes that people point out seem fairly straightforward for somebody who’s been writing for a long time—you deal with certain recurring ideas and problems. But then there are very specific echoes that I wasn’t aware of, and those are really interesting to me. My protagonists eat a lot of Chinese food and go to a lot of cafés. People tend to have cats in my stories, and the women have long fingers. I have no idea where this stuff comes from. I have no lost love with long fingers. I guess these things just leak out of my subconscious. Read More »
June 11, 2014 | by Alice Whitwham
In 2008, Rivka Galchen published Atmospheric Disturbances, a novel about a psychiatrist who wakes up one day to discover that his wife has been substituted by a replica. He subscribes to the delusions of a patient (who believes he can control the weather) to explain her disappearance. What James Wood referred to as the narrator’s first-person “double unreliability” made for a richly inconclusive novel about the confusion and mystery of love.
In her new story collection, American Innovations, Galchen, who has a background in medicine, returns us to worlds in which weird things happen. A woman watches the objects in her Brooklyn apartment leave of their own volition; a student of Library Sciences develops a third breast; refrigerated string cheese won’t stay put. Galchen’s stories suggest oppositions that dissolve in their own reversals: real things take on the patina of the artificial, while the fantastic and strange can feel more real than what we call real life. To read her stories is something like using a map without contours or coordinates; it’s impossible to plan your trip.
Over e-mail, Galchen and I discussed fiction’s relationship to field geology, the peculiarities of the short story as a form, and the allure of McDonald’s. Galchen is exhilaratingly imaginative, precise, and generous.
Why is the story a form you return to?
Short stories feel found to me—I like that about them. Of course, they’re actually not found, they’re written, just as novels are written, but they seem to have a more dense and unchangeable core than novels do, or at least it seems like one reaches the immutable core faster.
I like how stories can feel like some shiny thing on the ground, something that might be malachite, or might be a fragment of a comet, or might be a rusted old ignition. The writing process for a short story feels more like field geology, where you keep turning the thing over and over, noting its qualities in detail, hammering at it, putting it near flame, pouring different acids on it, and then finally you figure out what it is, or you just give up and mount it on a ring and have an awkward chunky piece of jewelry that seems weirdly dominating but that you for some reason like. I could be wrong about field geology here.
Where do you find your stories?
Sometimes I wonder if it’s immaterial things rooting around to find their material. For example, I have a story set in large part in a McDonald’s, there’s a young girl at the center of it, it’s in many ways a kind of love story, but why McDonald’s? McDonald’s was just sitting there in the old costume trunk of the back brain, and there was some inchoate emotion trying to play its little tune, and for whatever congregation of reasons McDonald’s was ideally useful to that emotion. It gave it the right language—probably in part because of that weird residue of how enchanting McDonald’s used to be when we were kids, how it was all an outsize luxury. And then, of course, it looks so different to us today. I think it has something to do with the question, What is it fiction is actually good at? What can it do that’s not better done with, say, a long piece of journalism, or a photograph, or a TV show? And that, in turn, has something to do with the intangible murk from which stories start to organize themselves. That intangible murk is the part that feels found to me. Read More »
February 3, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman.
- Who are Joyce’s modern heirs? Rivka Galchen and Pankaj Mishra discuss.
- No longer shall they toil in obscurity: Lemony Snicket has launched the Prize for Noble Librarians Faced with Adversity.
- The Hardy Boys face what are undeniably their strangest mysteries yet.
- Is Eurostile Bold Extended the most popular typeface in science fiction? A look at the typography in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
October 28, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
- A group of advocates is looking to establish the nation’s first literary cultural district in historically-rich Boston. Says the Globe, “Its proponents don’t know exactly where its borders will lie, or what, precisely, visitors will do, but more significant is this: the very idea that there could be a literary cultural district is recognition that the city is undergoing a renaissance.”
- A Cleveland house where Langston Hughes lived as a high-school student is on the market, following a foreclosure.
- Germaine Greer has sold her archive to her alma mater, the University of Melbourne. The feminist’s portion of the three million dollar sale will go to her charity, Friends of Gondwana Rainforest.
- “Because we are less sure of what fiction is ‘saying,’ we are less preemptively defended against it or biased in its favor. We are inclined to let it past our fortifications. It’s merely a court jester, there to amuse us. We let in the brazen liar and his hidden, difficult truths.” Rivka Galchen on the relevance of fiction.
November 8, 2012 | by Sadie Stein
Last week, the waterfront neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, was one of the areas shattered by superstorm Sandy. On Wednesday, November 14, join host Kurt Andersen; musicians Steve Earle and Stew; novelists Joseph O’Neill, Sam Lipsyte, and Rivka Galchen; nonfiction luminaries Phillip Lopate, Chuck Klosterman, Philip Gourevitch, Meghan O’Rourke, Deborah Baker, Robert Sullivan, and others for Defiance: A Literary Benefit to Rebuild Red Hook. Readings will center on the themes of recovery and rebuilding, drawing on more than two centuries of literature about the historic neighborhood.
The event takes its name from Fort Defiance, the revolutionary-era citadel that once loomed over Red Hook, keeping ferry routes clear for General George Washington’s Continental Army. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the evening will be divided between two nonprofit organizations that are leading Red Hook’s post-Sandy recovery, Red Hook Initiative and Restore Red Hook. Learn more and buy tickets here.
December 19, 2011 | by Francisco Goldman
Roberto Bolaño considered Daniel Sada to be without rival among Mexican writers of their generation. Both were born in 1953. Bolaño spent his adolescence in Mexico, and even though some of his greatest novels and stories have Mexican settings, he never set foot there again after moving to Spain in his early twenties. I imagine that Bolaño must have relied, at least to some extent, on Sada’s novels—Sada’s perfect ear and exuberant re-creation of Mexican voices, the voices of the Mexican desert north especially—while writing his own Mexican masterpieces. Sada’s works were a polyphonic parade of voices, a Mexican cacophony: shouts, laughter, violent, lewd curses, sweet whispers, song.
“It was a place rarely visited, but attractive, four kilometers to the south of Sombrerete. There was a barranca whose abyss made you want to stop and contemplate it, and a cascade of crystalline water, thin and capricious.” So opens, modestly enough, Sada’s novel A la vista, published months before his death this year, on November 18. In the next sentence, Sada strikes a more characteristic note: “También había un ornato de árobles por doquier”—that ornato is a peculiar and Sada-esque word, impossible to translate, the whole phrase delicious to pronounce, though all it means, really, is that there were also a lot of trees around, and “a temperate year-round climate.” “The great thing about that place,” Sada goes on to write, “was that it was limited to the efficacy of words, as no photograph existed to give a more precise notion of the supposed marvel.” The description, the reader realizes by the end of the paragraph, is a set-up for a real estate scam. (As it turns out, there is no cascade, and no trees, only that abyss, and the climate.)
Bolaño compared Sada’s baroque writing style to Lezama Lima’s, by way of making the point that because the Cuban Lezama’s baroque reflected the crowded natural effulgence of the tropics, Sada’s baroque is a more impressive verbal invention, a baroque of the desert. Read More »