Under the Influence #14, Peace

written by Kurt Baumeister September 13, 2019

Intro

Wherein Chuck Greaves praises the erudition of Rex Stout, David Abrams hails Agatha Christie’s ability to breed distrust in teenagers, David Huddle discusses the shining sentences of J.D. Salinger, Tim Horvath thanks Renata Adler for broadening his perspective on language, and Kurt Baumeister shares how master satirist Kurt Vonnegut taught him to be himself. Baumeister returns with a final outro, including an index readers can use to find their favorite pieces in the series.


J.D. Salinger

by David Huddle

Ever since I read Nine Stories in 1961, I’ve been under the influence of J. D. Salinger. The fact that I grew up in Appalachia made Salinger’s writing all the more exotic and compelling to me. Enlisting in the army in 1964 and convincing the army to send me to the Army Intelligence School were choices informed by “For Esme with Love and Squalor.” I still think his sentences are among the most pleasurable I’ve ever read—a shining example is thirteen-year old Esme’s droll and heartbreaking question to Sergeant X: “Are you at all acquainted with squalor?” In 1961, all I knew was that I loved those stories and read them so many times I could recite whole paragraphs from memory. Even now I often hear myself whispering Esme’s polite note to Sergeant X as a mantra for my daily life: “I hope you return from the war with all your faculties intact.”

David Huddle is the author of Hazel, and more than twenty previous books, including fiction, essays, and poetry. His novel Nothing Can Make Me Do This won the Library of Virginia Award for Fiction, and his Black Snake at the Family Reunion won the PEN New England Award for Poetry. He teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English and the Rainier Writing Workshop. A native of Ivanhoe, Virginia, Huddle has lived in Vermont for over four decades.


Agatha Christie

by David Abrams

In 1975, I was a body in a library reaching for a book. I was twelve years old, caught at that awkward border between boy and man. I pulled the paperback out of the wedge of books and turned to the first page. I was a body in a library reading The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie. That afternoon, I met sin in all its cool adult glory: deceivers unspooling deception, adults engaged in adultery, stranglers tightening their grip on the ends of scarves. The world’s most widely-read mystery novelist taught me about masks and the true faces they hide. She taught me to distrust and to observe. She showed me that nothing is ever as it seems.

David Abrams is the author of Brave Deeds and Fobbit. Abrams’ short stories have appeared in the anthologies Montana NoirWatchlistFire and Forget, and several others. Other stories and essays have appeared in EsquireGlimmer Train StoriesNarrativeF(r)ictionThe Greensboro Review, and many other publications. Abrams earned a BA in English from the University of Oregon and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He lives in Butte, Montana with his wife. He blogs about books at The Quivering Penwww.davidabramsbooks.blogspot.com


Rex Stout

by C. Joseph Greaves

I first discovered Rex Stout and his thirty-odd Nero Wolfe detective novels at around the time I discovered pleasure reading, which is to say in my early teens. The books were erudite, and slyly political, and sometimes touched on hot-button social issues like Communism (The Second Confession, 1949), and civil rights (A Right to Die, 1964), and governmental intrusion (The Doorbell Rang, 1965). And while I didn’t realize it at the time, they were teaching me everything I needed to know about writing a compelling mystery: an inciting incident, a quest, obstacles to be overcome, and a big reveal.  Boom.

Chuck Greaves/C. Joseph Greaves has been a finalist for most of the major awards in crime fiction including the Shamus, Macavity, Lefty, and Audie. His last novel Tom & Lucky (Bloomsbury) was a Wall Street Journal “Best Books of 2015” selection and finalist for the 2016 Harper Lee Prize.His sixth novel Church of the Graveyard Saints (Torrey House) will be in bookstores September, 2019.


Renata Adler

by Tim Horvath

When I picked up Renata Adler’s Pitch Dark from the remainder stand outside the Strand in my early twenties, my eye alighted on, “The world is everything that is the case. And in the second place because.” I knew the first line was Wittgenstein and would soon learn the second was Nabokov, but I wouldn’t know for many years how much this book would shape my way of thinking about language, relationships, and storytelling.

I went on to write my thesis on the book’s fragmentary challenge to knowledge, at one point photocopying the whole thing so I could write marginalia without marring the deckle edge pages. It remained mysterious, elusive, which I continue to admire as much as its bold turns of phrase, its obsessively recurring refrains, and the way it treated language itself as material: plenty of warp, a little weft.

Tim Horvath (www.timhorvath.com) is the author of Understories (Bellevue Literary Press), which won the New Hampshire Literary Award, and Circulation (sunnyoutside press), with stories in Conjunctions, AGNI, and elsewhere. He teaches Creative Writing at New England College, including in the Institute of Art and Design.


Kurt Vonnegut

by Kurt Baumeister

A reviewer recently mentioned Vonnegut’s influence in relation to my novel Pax Americana—and he’s the point of reference that seems to be most common when people are looking for one with my work—so, why not, let’s make the last influence of Under the Influence, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr..

I discovered Vonnegut late, as I was finishing my undergraduate work (in accounting…yick!) and I sailed through his major books (and a few others) in short order. He’s smooth, easy reading, of that there can be no doubt. Of the books I read, the one that stuck with me most was Cat’s Cradle, and I would say there are certainly elements of Pax Americana’s world-bending computer program Symmetra that echo Cat’s Cradle’s deadly water variant, Ice-nine.

To sum up what I learned from Vonnegut in a few words: I’d say I learned I could have fun and still be writing “serious” fiction; I learned I could let my imagination go, more or less as far as I liked as long as I could make some odd sort of sense of things eventually; and I learned I was allowed to be serious and humorous, political and ridiculous, more or less at the same time, and certainly in the same work.


Outro

This is the end of Entropy’s Under the Influence, at least for the foreseeable future. I have novels and poems to write. I have books to review, interviews both ridiculous and not-so to conduct. Oh, I may be back at some point, as there were many of my personal favorites (Margaret Atwood, Milan Kundera, Graham Swift, Julian Barnes, Lorrie Moore, Will Self, Anthony Burgess, etc., etc., etc.) we never got around to covering. But I’ve run every piece I accepted, just as I said I would at the beginning—I’ve even written a few myself—and now seems like a good time to shut things down.

Thanks to all my contributors! I’ve listed them below, along with their influences, for your ease of references:

Roll Call (by issue, in order of appearance, writer (influence))

  • UTI #1: Evison (Fante), Makkai (Shakespeare), Mokkil (Doerr), Bullwinkel (Gordon), Sidhu (Brophy), barlow (Schulz)
  • UTI #2: Sparks (Dinesen), Stone (Davis), Reich (Acker), Fowler (McCracken), Domini (Barthelme), Seidlinger (Ballard)
  • UTI #3: Cohen (Ishiguro), Smith (Jansson), Nordmark (Mantel), Jackson (Borges), Rothacker (Ovid), Bowles (Nezahualcoyotl)
  • UTI #4: Strauss (Pritchett), Dermansky (Eisenberg), Jones (Winterson), Rice (Hernandez), Allen (Dunn), Catalano (Faulkner)
  • UTI #5: Bhuvaneswar (Erdrich), Ferro (Wallace), Campanioni (Infante), Wright (O’Connor), Reed (Gardner), Hudson (Allison)
  • UTI #6: Doubinsky (Moorcock), Janeshek (Barnes), Spiegel (Ferrante), Cherry (Johnson), Lessard (Baudelaire), Frank (Sterne)
  • UTI #7: Sattin (Murakami), Collins (Jackson), Wilson (Burroughs), Di Blasi (de Maupassant), Cohen (Bellow), Martin (Williams)
  • UTI #8 : Nagamatsu (Abe), Sneed (Silber), Salvatore (DeLillo), Wilson (Crane)
  • UTI #9 : Leavitt (O’Farrell), Lorber (Rimbaud), Singer (Purpura), Cummings (Plath)
  • UTI #10: Beers (Sexton), Little (Sendak), Snoek-Brown (Austen), Sampsell (Bernstein)
  • UTI #11: Hightower (Kafka), Beaudoin (Carroll), Maxwell (Snyder), Squires (Murdoch), Baumeister (Amis)
  • UTI #12: Werner (Hempel), Fournier (Coupland), Bender (Maso), Blaine (Chandler), Baumeister (Rushdie)
  • UTI #13: Buckless (Tolkien), Specktor (Stevens), Spatz (Agee), Warren (Munro), Baumeister (Nabokov)
  • UTI #14: Huddle (Salinger), Abrams (Christie), Greaves (Stout), Horvath (Adler), Baumeister (Vonnegut)

As I said, I may be back at some point, with this column or an anthology in which I ask some of my contributors to expand their pieces into the 2000-word or so range. Who knows? But it’s been a pleasure editing/curating this column for you.

Thanks, as always, to Entropy’s Editor-in-Chief Janice Lee who has been fabulous to work with, friendly graphicsmith Ryan W. Bradley for the Under the Influence logo he was so generous as to provide, and everyone who’s been a reader. I hope you’ve found something useful in these columns, an influence or thought, that has helped enrich your writing and your world. Peace.

Under the Influence #4, Nabokov’s Hyperbole

written by Kurt Baumeister September 12, 2018
Published initially by Entropy

Intro

Wherein you will learn of David Leo Rice’s ten mental locks, Marcy Dermansky’s ability to see romance in the confluence of pierogis and roaches, how Stephen Dunn’s poetry makes Kenzie Allen feel at home anywhere in the world, Kevin Catalano’s thoughts on semicolons and Faulkner, Pam Jones’s envy for Jeanette Winterson (and, really, who doesn’t have a little of that), and, finally, Darin Strauss’s musings on the great V.S. Pritchett. Enjoy….


V.S. Pritchett

by Darin Strauss

Pritchett is a great writer—admired by masters as different as Eudora Welty and Martin Amis—but he’s not the best writer in history. He happens, though, to be the writer in whose “rainbow” I “oscillate,” to paraphrase Melville on Hawthorne.

Brad Leithauser talks about there being, out on the shelves of the world, a “book of your life.” That’s Pritchett’s Collected Stories for me, as it’s probably some other writer for you—the person whose work sends out a message you receive perfectly, as if it was aimed at you alone.

The cadence of Pritchett’s sentences, the empathy in his dialogue, the gentle humor activates in me some feeling of kinship—some frizzle of recognition—that let me know who I was, or wanted to be.

Darin Strauss is the author of the bestselling novels Chang & EngThe Real McCoyMore Than It Hurts You and most recently the NBCC-winning memoir Half a Life. These have been New York Times Notable BooksNewsweek,Los Angeles TimesSan Francisco ChronicleChicago TribuneNPR Best Books of the Year, among other honors.  The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and The National Book Critics Circle Award, Strauss has been translated into fourteen languages and published in nineteen countries. He has a novel, a limited comic book series—Olivia Twist—and a graphic novel coming out in 2018-2019 and is the Clinical Professor of fiction in the NYU graduate writing program.


Deborah Eisenberg

by Marcy Dermansky

In my first fiction class as an undergraduate in college, my writing professor assigned short stories by Deborah Eisenberg from her first collection Transactions in a Foreign Country. They just blew my mind. I loved these stories, the smart and troubled young women she was writing about. There was a girl from New Jersey (just like me) who was going blind, who falls in love with an older guy she meets at a bar across the street from her eye doctor. And the unhappy college graduate, recently dumped, who moves to the East Village to an apartment unseen, living that sort of on the edge of bohemian New York City life I one day aspired to have. Even the roaches on the pierogi had a kind of romance to them. At that moment in time, Eisenberg’s short stories were exactly what I wanted to read. And maybe even more important, they were stories I hoped that one day I would be able to write.

Marcy Dermansky is the author of The Red CarBad Marie, and Twins. Her new novel Very Nice will be released next year. Find her at www.marcydermansky.com

 

 


Jeanette Winterson

by Pam Jones

The best thing, I think, is when I come across a writer who brings about envy in me. I have read Jeanette Winterson’s novel, Written on the Body, at least once a year since I was seventeen. The narrator is stripped of name, gender, age, description of any kind, save for their effect on those they have seduced and those who have seduced them. There’s a tricky balance here, knowing how much or how little you need to make a work act as a mirror, a reflection of the reader that is both humorous and humiliating. I envy Winterson’s talent. And when I envy someone’s work, I know it’s good.

Pam Jones is the author of The Biggest Little Bird (Black Hill Press/1888Center, 2013) and Andermatt County: Two Parables (The April Gloaming, 2018). Her short fiction has appeared in Boned and The Cost of Paper. She lives in Austin, TX with her husband.

 


Felisberto Hernández

by David Leo Rice

I picture my mind having ten locks. Any author whose work I enjoy opens two or three, any whose work I love opens five or six, but only a few open all ten, thereby entering the chamber where my DNA is stored. One such author is Felisberto Hernández, who also played piano in the silent film theaters of Uruguay in the early 20thcentury. All of his stories, and in particular “The Daisy Dolls,” descend into a netherworld where waking and dreaming overlap, and objects (pianos, mansions, dolls) take on uncanny life. What I love most is how familiar this netherworld comes to feel, inducing an eerie sense of déjà vu.

David Leo Rice is a writer and animator from Northampton, MA. His stories, which often strive to merge the real and the surreal in small American towns, appear in Black ClockThe CollagistThe RumpusHobartCatapult,Birkensnake, and elsewhere. His first novel, A Room in Dodge City, is the first in a trilogy and was published in 2017. He is currently working on a standalone novel inspired by reclusive artists such as Joseph Cornell and Robert Walser. Its main thematic question is: where, if anywhere, is the line between the cool-weird and the weird-weird in art? His work is online at: www.raviddice.com.

 


Stephen Dunn

by Kenzie Allen

I can’t carry much with me, continuously crossing oceans, but Stephen Dunn’s Different Hours always makes the trip. There’s much to be said for the cadre of artists sometimes referred to as “wisdom poets,” whose quiet revelations rendered in bright narrative never fail to bring me to tears, to longing, to a sense that I’ve come home (even in a time when, for me, “home” is increasingly elusive). I believe in poetry’s power to build community, and I admire poets like Dunn for inviting a broad readership; his work is no less complex than the poems we sometimes puzzled over in English Literature classes, but ultimately it feels welcoming—and funny, and wrenching, and yes, wise—and, above all, generous.

Kenzie Allen is a descendant of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin. She is currently an Advanced Opportunity Program Fellow in the English & Creative Writing PhD at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, where she teaches in American Indian Studies. Kenzie received her MFA from the University of Michigan, and she is the Managing Editor of Anthropoid. She was born in West Texas, lives in Norway, and tumbleweeds wherever the wind takes her.

 


William Faulkner

by Kevin Catalano

Because you young college man raced to chase that tail of the interminable sentence that vines like kudzu tangled in the nooses of history hanging from too many willows that weep blood on Sutpen’s Hundred, you tried all the tricks, like the semicolons–that mixed race of punctuation, the Eulalia Bon of pauses–an Absalom here and an Absalom there, a ten-year mimicry that could pass like Charles Bon, but with one indomitable exception: you’re a Yankee appropriating a tangled-up South you’ll never understand; so finally, you wise up, but your blood’s been syntactically infected and you’ll spend a lifetime repudiating it.

Kevin Catalano is the author of the novel, Where the Sun Shines Out. His other writing has appeared in PANK,FanzineGargoyle Magazine, and other places. Find more at www.kevincatalano.com.

 

 


Outro

“Curiously enough, one cannot read a book; one can only reread it. A good reader, a major reader, an active and creative reader is a rereader.”

— Vladimir Nabokov (Lectures on Literature)

Pam Jones’s devotion to Winterson’s Written on the Body has me thinking about the nature of rereading, why it’s so essential and how intimately it’s tied to this whole Under the Influence project, which in turn sent me back to Nabokov’s famous quote.

As he was prone to, Nabokov makes his case in hyperbolic terms, the reality being that of course one can bloody well read a book, that there is indeed quite a bit to be gotten from that first pass. As writers, however, we read not just for pleasure but to learn and in this way, from this perspective, Nabokov is dead on.

We reread, obviously, to increase our conscious understanding of a text, but also to embed it in our psyches, to make our relationship with it subconscious. Yes, we achieve some of this effect even with a first read, but not much of it. By rereading, by committing more and more of the text to memory, we create a stronger relationship with it, one that passes into something like the metaphysical.

The text travels, in our heads, through our lives, emerging sometimes years or decades later, not just in the odd syntactic tic, but in the cadence of our prose, the rhythms of our dialogue, and often, in the themes and architecture of our own work. This deeper, subconscious knowledge is the gift of rereading, one so great maybe it really was deserving of Nabokov’s hyperbole.