I recently asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I’m reading The Collected Stories of Leonard Michaels, which I randomly grabbed off the new release shelf when I was returning some books to the library. I think I read Michaels a little in the nineties, and I think he taught at Berkeley when I was a student there; in fact, I think he may have rejected me for his fiction-writing class. Anyway, I had forgotten about him and didn’t really know what to expect. As I often do with an author’s collected stories, I started near the end of the book. I quickly became obsessed with these stories. They’re so good — so funny and smart and engrossing. In particular, I loved the Nachman stories, a series of stories about a mathematician known only as Nachman. Really, I’m a critical person, I hate everything, but I can hardly express how much I loved these stories and how good I think they are, as good as fiction gets.Stacey Richter received her M.F.A. from Brown University. She is a three-time Pushcart Prize winner, and has been named a Village Voice Writer on the Verge.
Nachman is a mathematician who loves numbers. He has a semi-autistic mathematician personality and in each story he becomes entangled in an emotional situation that puzzles him. He’s a character who keeps a great deal of distance between himself and others, and somehow he’s the perfect vehicle for Michaels’ gifts as a writer — wry, distanced, intellectual, full of strange surges of feeling. I think I’m going to have to read them again before I can even begin to figure out how they work so well. It’s funny, because as I read backward in the book, I see that Michaels’ earlier work is, itself, distanced and intellectual and full of surges of feeling, the kind of fractured but relentlessly active narrative I associate with writers like Robert Coover. Most of the time, I find that style trying. As a reader, I resent having to work that hard at assembling meaning or narrative, though I mind less when it’s really funny. It’s interesting to me that those wonderful late stories emerged from his early style, and perhaps are a sort of comment on it.
Apparently, Michaels was working on a book of Nachman stories when he died. I wish he’d had time to finish it.
Visit Richter's website.
The Page 99 Test: Twin Study.