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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Interview: C.P. Boyko

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?)

I'm going to have a hard time answering this one. The fact is, I don't like talking about my work, because I feel like I've said it all in the work itself -- and said it as well as I'll ever be able to say it. If I had my way, the book would probably come out without even any description or blurbs on the dust jacket.

Nevertheless, here is a description of the book that I found floating around on my computer, and which is not wholly inaccurate, I think:

Psychology and Other Stories is a novel in six parts, or a thematically linked collection of six long stories, about mental illness, mental health, and the people who try to tell the two apart.

Part I, “Reaction-Formation,” is about a boy at boarding school and his psychoanalyst, who tells him he is gay. “The Inner Life” is about an ex-lawyer who is compulsively researching Freud’s use of cocaine. In “Eat the Rich and Shit the Poor,” two runaway girls hitchhiking are picked up by a flamboyant psychopath. “Paddling an Iceberg” is the story of a self-help guru, the story of one of his pupils, a dissection of self-help literature, and an example of it. “Signal to Noise” is about a business magnate whose family conspires to have him committed to a mental hospital when he begins to grow senile. The final part, “The Blood–Brain Barrier,” is a prose screenplay about a murderer in Los Angeles and the forensic psychiatrist paid to pronounce upon his sanity in court.

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

This one is much more fun. Limiting myself to one author, I have recently discovered Marcel Aymé, whose stories have been translated into English in two collections, The Proverb and Across Paris. His stories are funny, clearly written, and use omniscience to help us see characters in all their flaws, but without looking down on them. He also wrote novels.

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

This one is a stumper. Centuries are large and heterogeneous things. It would also be hard, beyond the one built-in adjective, to make generalizations about short stories.

As long ago as 1891 John Davidson said "an author might as well offer a horse unbuttered stones as a publisher a volume of short stories." I don't think it's quite that bad, but there's no question that most
publishers prefer to put their money on novels -- readers too.

However, I recently sat on the Governor General's award jury, and of 240 books I received, at least as many of them were short story collections as mystery novels. This may have been an unrepresentative
sample, but it made me think that the short story's not quite dead -- not at the moment, not in this country.

The form that I grieve for is the novella. It's obviously silly and arbitrary to categorize stories by length (though it has the advantage of being quantifiable); nevertheless, if we agree to call any piece of fiction more than 5,000 and less than 40,000 words a novella, I can't help but wonder why more novellas aren't being written (or, possibly, published)? It's hard to believe that fictions (which comprise the universe, and all of human experience) just naturally average either twenty or 300 pages, but nothing in between. There must be some nefarious explanation. Whatever it is, it would help explain why I find most novels too long and many short stories too short: writers are writing to length.

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