Sunday, September 25, 2011

William Giraldi

William Giraldi teaches at Boston University and is Senior Fiction Editor for AGNI. His nonfiction and fiction have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Georgia Review, Bookforum, Southern Review, The Believer, Kenyon Review, Poets & Writers, Yale Review, The American Scholar, Antioch Review, TriQuarterly, and Salmagundi. His essay on amateur bodybuilding, “Freaky Beasts,” received a Pushcart Prize and was listed among Most Notable Essays in Best American Essays 2010. His essay “The Physics of Speed” was a finalist for a 2011 National Magazine Award.

His new novel is Busy Monsters.

Earlier this month I asked Giraldi what he was reading. His reply:
Alistair MacLeod's story collection Island is a solemn masterpiece. The solemnity is located primarily in the prose; though simple, declarative, and concrete – MacLeod has clearly been influenced by the early Hemingway – there is a fable-like eeriness to his style as he tells the stories of spiritually deprived people living an austere life in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. MacLeod’s is an austerity worthy of Jack London, and yet London cannot match the haunting beauty of MacLeod’s narratives and the prose that sustains them. Without purple poetics or elusive abstractions, the prose often builds to a lulling, hypnotic effect, and once it has pulled you into MacLeod’s world, it feels oddly like some grand, expensive narcotic. These are stories about fishermen, about great-great-grandfathers, about families with twelve children. In “The Road to Rankin’s Point,” a young man with an unnamed terminal illness takes a dangerous car ride to visit his dying grandmother; the news of his fate causes her to die that night, as if she refused to live another day with the knowledge that her grandson will not have a full existence. “The Closing Down of Summer” has a miner explaining his life but with no specific story to tell; he is soon off to a mine in Africa and fears imminent death; this is, perhaps, his final testament. “As Birds Bring Forth the Sun” is really a ghost story whose spirit owes something not to London’s White Fang, but to Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. It manages to be mythic and surreal and yet still strikingly appropriate to MacLeod’s time and place. Much of this collection feels ghostly, which is bizarre for stories so firmly rooted in reality, in the everyday struggle to survive. The dead are never far from the living; the landscape is forever white; the moaning wind grates the nerves; the icy waves explode ashore. As befits the climate, interaction between people is rare; dialogue is scarce. Long stretches of narration are interior, nearly Jamesian in their reflection. An outward, dramatic tension is often sacrificed to this interiority; the process of thinking, of reflecting and remembering, becomes the narrative drive. In another nod to Hemingway – specifically the Nick Adams stories – the facts of blood and bone, of rock and water, supplant the facts of narrative, and so it is not uncommon to be given only the subtlest hints as to a character’s situation. These are stories that crawl into you and live forever.
Visit the Busy Monsters website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue