Monday, January 26, 2009

Greg Sanders

Greg Sanders' short stories have appeared in a number of journals and magazines, including Mississippi Review, Opium Magazine, Pindeldyboz, Essays & Fictions, The Los Angeles Review, and The Warwick Review. He earned his MFA from the New School in 2004, lives in New York City, and earns his living as a technical writer.

His collection of 21 short stories, Motel Girl, was published by Red Hen Press in September of 2008.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
About a month ago a writer friend, David Pollock, loaned me his copy of Thomas Bernhard's novel, The Loser. The story, in first person, follows the unnamed narrator's fictional relationship with the piano playing genius Glenn Gould and a second friend, Wertheimer, whom Gould labels with "The Loser" moniker when the three men are in music school together in the 1950s. Structurally, the third paragraph, which begins on the first page of the novel, goes on to the end of the book, and the entire narrative is an internal monologue. The novel's very bleak in its way (one suicide and lots of talk of death and diminution), but the narrator's disdain for his fellow Austrians—he calls them "cretinous"—and his meditations on the ridiculous delicacy of artists' egos (in this case, he and Wertheimer become convinced of their worthlessness the very fist time they hear Gould play the piano), along with his analysis of the interrelationship between wealth and existential unhappiness (the latter is a luxury only the former can afford) kept me, paradoxically, happy as all get up. The pure bleakness of the novel is refreshing. I'm thinking—and this is probably not a well-formulated thesis—that the irony of late 20th century European fiction is more indicative of the human condition than the light irony of today's fiction, which seems to be more about fashion than anything else. So maybe, for me, Bernhard's novel is as an antidote to one type of narrative—overtly clever and often forgettable—I keep running into these days.

Probably feeling that one loser narrative should beget another, I then bought a copy of Dostoyevsky's The Gambler from the Strand bookstore here in NYC. I'd always wanted to read the book because it's well known that Dostoyevsky had a serious gambling problem, and I figured the novel would provide insight into the gambler's psychology, insight constructed well before the era of addiction victim writing. I was not let down. But the thin book (116 pages) holds a lot more. The plot follows the misadventures of Alexey Ivanovitch and fellow Russians who have lodged in a German gambling resort town aptly named Roulettenburg. One of the many things I love about Dostoyevsky's writing is the relish he seems to take in describing the minute physical attributes of his characters. In this case the self-deprecating narrator, who, unquenchably in love with one Polina Alexandrovna, describes how he himself behaved in a recent love-tortured beseeching of her: "I remember she looked at me with peculiar fixed attention. My face must have expressed my incoherent and absurd sensations.... My eyes were bloodshot. There were flecks of foam on my lips." Ivanovitch's addiction to gambling and his explosive love for Polina Alexandrovna complement, or possibly amplify, each other in a darkly comical way. Both are headlong pursuits down chasms of hopelessness and loss, and the reader knows it. The narrator is harshest on himself, but he has plenty to say about the Roulettenburg gambling saloon: "In the first place, it all struck me as so dirty, somehow, morally horrid and dirty. I am not speaking at all of the greedy, uneasy faces which by dozens, even by hundreds, crowd round the gambling tables.... I felt as I went into the hall all this covetousness, and all this covetous filth if you like, in a sense congenial and convenient. It is most charming when people do not stand on ceremony with one another, but act openly and aboveboard." As a metaphor for the current credit crisis, this feels like a metaphor that is too obvious, like a mallet to the head.
Learn more about Greg Sanders and his writing at his website, MySpace page, and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue