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Sunday, May 13, 2012

Interview: Adam Marek

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 stories in Instruction Manual for Swallowing (ECW, 2012) are about what happens when ordinary people collide with bizarre, fantastical situations.

There’s a story about a man who discovers he has testicular cancer on the day that a Godzilla-like monster attacks the city he lives in. There’s one about a guy who works in a restaurant for zombies.

In another, a man risks his life to destroy the robot wasps that have nested in his garden.

I think my favourite story in the book is Belly Full of Rain – it’s about a couple who discover they’re pregnant with 37 babies. They meet a specialist who says he can help them carry the babies to term, but some modification is necessary.

There’s not a single recurring theme that runs through every story in the book, but they’re all about real human anxieties manifested in monstrous, funny, absurd ways.

I wrote the collection over about four years. It was published in the UK a few years ago by Comma Press. This new North American edition from ECW Press has two new stories and an interview.

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

There are things you can do with a short story that you could never get a novel to do. Its shortness means you can ask the reader to suspend their disbelief to a much greater extent. Short story readers do not necessarily expect everything to be explained, so the form is perfect for the kind of odd, experimental, fantastical stories that I enjoy writing and reading.

Two of my favourite authors who really stretch the form in this way, writing about the absurd vs the mundane, are Haruki Murakami and Karen Russell. I’m just nutty about them both.

My favourite of Murakami’s three story collections is Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Murakami has a real gift for making the weird seem so ordinary, and the ordinary seem so odd, all with prose that’s clean and soft as snow.

My agent introduced me to Karen Russell’s story collection St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, and I’m so grateful to him. Her stories are waaaaaay out there (a girl falling in love with a swamp ghost in an alligator wrestling park, for example) but told so beautifully, with real solidity.

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

Do you mean, is the short story relevant today? Of course, yes. I hear a lot of people talking about how the short story is the ideal form for all the new reading technologies. Its shortness makes it ideal to read on your phone or Kindle in the little gaps in your busy day, train journeys and whatnot.

It really bugs me when people say that though. There’s an implication that the short story is a perfect match for short attention spans.

I believe that great short stories require much more attention than novels. Being so pared down, the whole meaning of the story can turn on a single sentence or even word. If you miss it, you miss the point. They’re not junk food you shove in your gob to fill a hunger hole.

They’re nourishing mouthfuls that deserve to be chewed and savoured before swallowing.

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