George Salis: What lonely sentence would you want to keep company by living inside?
Garielle Lutz: At this moment it is “Most of what he knows comes from putting his face up close,” from page 41 of Christine Schutt’s A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer, but a minute from now it will be something from the very next page (“Summer solstice is a grief she looks forward to, simultaneously loving the light and bemoaning that the light marks the beginning of days nightly shorn”), or from the page after that (“Madeline has an orphan appeal, and her famished prettiness gives off heat”), and then all the way through the book and then all the way back to the beginning again….
GS: How do you feel about (in)famously long sentences, such as the one in the first part of Bolaño’s 2666, or even those novels advertised as a “single sentence,” such as Ellman’s Ducks, Newburyport?
GL: I haven’t read those books. I’m a very slow reader even when the sentences are short.
GS: Have you considered writing a novel, perhaps something with the scope of DeLillo’s Underworld, an author you admire? In an interview with The Rumpus, you confess that “Something wrong with me prevents me from seeing anything whole and leaves me seeing only little parts of things….” Does this at least partly explain the lack of a novel?
GL: I’ve never aspired to write a novel. I don’t even think of myself as a writer.
GS: Why don’t you think of yourself as a writer? What’s your conception of one?
GL: I think we all know a writer when we see one. We’ve all seen the pictures. I think of myself more as a kind of compositor, a typesetter—a handler and arranger of words. They’ve got bulk, they’ve got their volumes and hollows, their crustifications and iridescences, and I just fit them into a compositure. I’m pretty literal about things.
GS: I’ve heard a few people mention that The Complete Gary Lutz reads like a fractured novel, as it were. Can you reflect on the collection as a whole? How do you feel the stories complement each other or even combat each other?
GL: That book collects all the stories I’d completed from 1990 until 2019. I felt on somewhat solid ground when trying to describe people my own age, so the narrators got older and older as I kept typing over the decades. Cooped up together in one book, the stories have no choice but to put up with each other.
GS: Speaking of novels, it seems more attention is given to this longer form over, say, stories, not to mention poems. Why do you think that is? Is there a specific story of yours you wish more people would read or pay special attention to?
GL: Novels, especially lousy ones, tend to be marketable to a degree that collections of stories or of poems rarely are. It makes sense that novels get more attention. Wanting attention isn’t necessarily the best reason to do something.
GS: Many of the characters in your stories are nameless. When Luisa Valenzuela was asked about the same thing, she said that “a name is a very heavy burden. Sometimes, I don’t want to put this burden on certain characters. Some don’t need a name.” Do you feel the same way or is there another reason for these eponymous omissions?
GL: Every name, whether in fiction or in life, is a misnomer most of the time. To be accurate, a person’s name would need to change many times throughout a day.
GS: Stephen King is anti-adverb. As he put it, “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day…fifty the day after that…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.” How do you feel about adverbs? Is your view of them as neurotic as King’s? I notice you often use them in pairs and the choices are surprising and unique.
GL: I love all eight parts of speech. In my eyes, all of them can become worthy citizens of a sentence. I think that what King means is that he’s against only adverbs that end in -ly. Lots of adverbs, though, don’t end that way (and lots of phrases and clauses, even in the excerpt of his you quoted, function adverbially). I can’t imagine that he’s against adjectives that end in -ly, and there are loads of them in our language (deathly, deadly, friendly, sisterly, womanly, motherly…). And I can’t imagine he would start bellyaching over the adverb nightly in Schutt’s “days nightly shorn.” It’s funny, but on a whim I just now visited the Amazon site and looked at a page of a random King novel–something called The Institute–and in the exposition I counted at least a dozen adverbs, including such exquisites as entirely, considerably, and terribly. And then, as a lark, I looked up the first page of the only thing of his I’d ever read, an essay called “Why We Crave Horror Movies,” which helped pad a freshman-composition textbook from which I’d once had to teach. Lots of adverbs there! Considerably puts in an appearance early on. He must be fond of that one.
GS: What is a novel or story collection you’ve read and think deserves more readers?
GL: A Day, a Night, Another Day, Summer, a short-story collection by Christine Schutt. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve reread it.
GS: There’s a healthy dose of humor in your latest story collection, Worsted, such as in the story “Rules for Tenants.” How do you view humor in your fiction? Is it a necessity? Do you think writers often take themselves too seriously, perhaps to the detriment of their art?
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Garielle Lutz was born in Allentown, PA in 1955. Her most recent book is the short story collection Worsted (Short Flight/Long Drive Books). Previous books include The Gotham Grammarian (Calamari Archive, Ink) and The Complete Gary Lutz (Tyrant Books). Her work has appeared in Sleepingfish, NOON, Conjunctions, Unsaid, Fence, StoryQuarterly, The Believer, and elsewhere. From 1997 to 2000, she edited fiction for 5 Trope, an online journal of experimental poetry and prose. Before retiring, she was a professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg.
George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below. His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, House of Zolo, Three Crows Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Twitter, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.
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3 thoughts on “Days Nightly Shorn: An Interview with Garielle Lutz”
Thanks to The Collidescope for turning me on to another wicked smart writer whose work I’m not yet familiar with. I was really laughing over the deserved takedown of Stephen King’s adverb dictum. Hoisted by his own petard! Or maybe I should say “deservedly hoisted.” I love her general pragmatism and tart modesty about things in general and look forward to reading her work.
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Thanks, Johnny! Garielle is one of my favorite short story writers of all time. I can always count on her prose to make me swoon and feel disturbed at the same time.
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I just ordered Worsted and can’t wait to get it and start reading. The reviews of it on Goodreads were nothing short of ecstatic. I do believe she could easily start a cult–in fact, I suspect she already has.
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