Thursday, August 10, 2017

David Burr Gerrard

David Burr Gerrard is the author of The Epiphany Machine and Short Century. He teaches creative writing at the 92nd Street Y, The New School, and the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop. He lives in Queens, NY with his wife.

Recently I asked Gerrard about what he was reading. His reply:
I was asked at a Q&A for my new novel The Epiphany Machine recently why I write speculative fiction rather than more strictly realistic fiction. My answer was that I find the world so strange that I can only see it clearly if I look at from a strange angle. And seeing the world from the strange angles other see it is the primary reason I read. (Partially for this reason, I’m not sure the distinction between realistic fiction and speculative fiction holds. There is only fiction that succeeds or fails at finding a particular angle that allows you to see the world more clearly, if only for the briefest instant.)

Eugene Lim’s new novella Dear Cyborgs sees the world from a number of strange angles—angles so strange that it’s often not clear what’s going on. The confusion in this book never pretentious or pointless—it feels intrinsic to the book’s political urgency and to the book’s pleasure. The only thing I’ve read in 2017 that’s more confusing than Eugene Lim’s Dear Cyborgs is each day’s news. Dear Cyborgs is far more fun, and far, far more fulfilling.

Dear Cyborgs is about comic books, protests, the weight of capitalism, a mysterious character named Ms. Mistleto. The book has the nervy, exciting feel of a night in college, where a long intellectual conversation can feel sexy and suspenseful. And like those nights, the fewer expectations you have going in, the better.


One of the best sections in Dear Cyborgs is called “True Death Speaks,” and recounts a performance by 92 year old man, who tells a story filled with “a wide, dark ocean of implacable sorrow.” A character says that when he spoke, it was what “True Death” would say: “Not I’m coming for you but You always dwell within me.”

Shawn Wen’s marvelous A Twenty Minute Silence Followed by Applause is not speculative fiction, but it feels that way to me. Like the best speculative fiction, it starts with an impossible premise and makes that premise feel real, palpable, inevitable. In this case, that premise is a book-length essay about the French mime Marcel Marceau, something I could not have imagined reading, let alone devouring in a single sitting, then waking up in the middle of the night to read again in a second single sitting. Wen, despite or more likely because of her background in radio, describes Marceau’s silence in a way that transforms mime from the annoying gimmick that is the object of so much clichéd American humor and into an art that is simultaneously earthy and otherworldly. In the process, Wen elevates Marceau from just another famous performer who used to be alive and is now dead to a timeless literary character, as haunting and unforgettable in his way as Kafka’s Hunger Artist. What Wen writes of Marceau’s movement could just as easily be applied to her own language: “As we watch the mime’s expressive form, we lose awareness of our own. We forget to breathe. Thank God our lungs inflate and deflate on their own.” If true death speaks, Shawn Wen makes true life silent, but also just loud enough. Just as all writing—speculative, realistic, whatever—ought to do.
Visit David Burr Gerrard's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Epiphany Machine.

My Book, The Movie: The Epiphany Machine.

--Marshal Zeringue