Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Damned If I Do by Percival Everett

Where I should be recovering from a particularly nasty stomach bug, rather I appear to be on a Percival Everett trip today - first Strom, now Damned - but he really is that good. Good as in read-everything-he's-written-now good. Good as in I'm writing this on my iPad never more than two meters from the nearest toilet good. That's good. 

A man who likes horses
and fishing...
Damned If I Do is short stories, yes. That I have a curious relationship with short fiction is undisputed, but there are some like Breece D'J Pancake and Haruki Murakami that just have to be read, objections or no. Thankfully, it appears Everett has inherited some of their ability to write convincing, understated and ultimately addictive snippets of prose. And snippets they are. Somewhere I read once a quote from China Mielville where he says he just loves it when writers don't show the reader the monster in its entirety, that leaving something of the horror to the imagination of his audience adds a level of engagement and makes the reading process active rather than passive. Or something. I'll find the quote and post a link to it when I get five minutes. Everett does that too (only with less monsters). Here we see a man who can fix anything, even the human body, hounded out of town and standing on the bridge - what next? A wrangler must transport a horse back home at twilight but it's afraid of the dark and all he's got is a torch - what to do? A man escapes a mental hospital but sits on a porch across the street to watch the police and ambulances roll up - why? An old man moves a car that is blocking his dumpsters only to be pursued by the police and shot by his friend the pharmacist. Does he die? Damned if I know, but that's the essential tug and twist of short stories, when masterfully crafted. 

A man I have more time for than sense, Kurt Vonnegut, writes the same way - everything drives the narrative forward, and there's always a twist. In the introduction to Look At The Birdie, Sidney Offit relates a time Vonnegut reviewed the life of a departed friend: "No children. No books. Few friends. She seemed to know what she was doing." That is achingly brilliant, brief Hemingway-esque life in four sentences micro fiction. Everett uses a few more words but lives and their stories are as emphatically created, nearly always with a protagonist of whom I have severe writer's envy - someone with firm convictions, strong morals and strength enough to maintain them both. Plus, in most cases, something about horses and fly-fishing.

If you're a fan of Everett, then you don't need convincing, except it might be worth noting that this is more Cutting Lisa than Glyph but then when writing is as good as this, it doesn't really matter if you're a baby with an IQ near 200 or buying up real estate to stop the developers. If you're not, you should be.

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