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Friday, November 4, 2011

Interview: Greg Kearney

Please tell us about your interest in the short story by

(a) telling us a bit about your recent collection (e.g., how did it come about? does it have a recurring theme? do you have a particular story or passage that's a favorite?)

The new collection is called Pretty (Exile Editions, 2011). Between two stillborn novels, I’ve been cobbling together the stories since my last collection came out. I’m slightly mortified by my first book – I find it cautious and cloying now – so I was desperate to publish again, to prove that I was more than a Derek McCormack acolyte with a penchant for toilet humour.

A version of Pretty was already in the can in 2008; my agent, Sam Haywood, shopped it around tirelessly but nobody wanted it. Naturally, I was crushed at the time, but it all resolved beautifully: Barry Callaghan accepted it for Exile Editions last year, and arranged an edit by Lisa Foad, a friend and brilliant writer who made the book more incisive and less puerile than it ever would’ve been otherwise.

There are no intentional motifs in the book. I was just running with my hottest impulses, sentence by sentence. I’ve learned that my stuff instantly dies on the vine the moment I attempt to “do” anything. My guiding theme, when writing, must be boiled down to a word, or I start to teeter; for instance, the novel I’ve been beavering away at is all about “hurry!” I actually may end up calling it Hurry.

(b) recommending a short story or collection by someone else that you admire (and why?)

The Collected Stories of Amy Hempel. I am tempted to not write another sentence, but I want to prove that I am more than an Amy Hempel acolyte. I was obsessed with her first book, Reasons to Live, when I was fifteen, read it over and over. Prior to reading her, I simply assumed that I was too impatient, too graceless, too preoccupied with masturbation to ever write more than a paragraph. After reading her, I realized that I didn’t need to write more than a paragraph. She emancipated me in the biggest way. Oh, and her next book, At the Gates of the Animal Kingdom, leveled me with its perfection. But then, in my preening, presumptuous late twenties, I forsook her: so one-note! Where’s the reach?

I’ve returned to her loving arms, however. My journey through high-minded contemporary fiction has led me to one awful, bloated novel after another. Rick Moody, Cormac McCarthy, David Foster Wallace. Ugh. All those straight, white, American male writers, bursting with entitlement, never knowing when to shut the fuck up. I literally hurled Infinite Jest across the living room (the thousand page thud of it sent our pug, Tammy, scurrying under the couch). A thousand page novel with footnotes! The nerve! Some of us don’t have time for footnotes! Some of us work several jobs, some of us have Lupus or worse, some of us are exercise addicts. Yes, I’ve come back to Amy, her small, fussy sentences and modest page count, her thoughtful presumption that the reader is busy and/or dying. I’ll never stray again.

(c) reflecting on the 21st century and the short story: Are they a good match (and why)?

The short story should be the prevailing literary form of our time – a few thousand words, two or elegant scenes, a bit of edification, over and out – but it’s not. Today’s reader is so frayed and twitchy after a long day of Tweets, status updates, gratuitous cell phone conversations and overly cerebral relationships with toddlers, it’s as though we need to do penance by reading all forty installments of “The Girl with Pierced Ears” or whatever the hell it’s called. We need to bask in the borrowed humanity of a long narrative. Pretty has received great reviews, and other writers love it, but I can’t tell you how many people have, by way of praise, wished that one story or another could’ve gone on and on. It’s confounding, this preoccupation with “going on and on”. I instantly think of some horrible Jethro Tull album. In any case, I have caved: I’ve got 135 pages of Hurry, and I’m nowhere near finished. Forgive me, Amy!

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