Fang Island – Daisy


Again the genius of Gary Lutz


“You don’t want to go over it again, how you go from being a part to being apart.”

But Lutz does go over it again and again, in masterful detail and brevity, from one sad sack to the next Lutz examines what we are when we find ourselves apart and not a part.

Let’s be clear about this from the outset: Lutz can write a sentence, boy can he write a sentence. “Master prose stylist” gets thrown around a lot but in Lutz’z case it’s more than true. You can pretty much scan his work at random and find a snap of genius, some timely adjective assiduously plucked or something of his own invention, some Frankenstein adverb, something that welcomingly flares in the mind and forces you to nod your head in envy and admiration.

Take the exert below:

“The library stayed open later and later. The one I liked behind the circulation desk had lips dulled plumly, some final drifts of girlhood at peril in her voice. A becoming boniness to the fingers, and that hardening and seaming of the face achieved, I was certain, from having seen too soon the pleading in things.”

It’s the “at peril” which defines Lutz’z genius, a lesser writer would have been content with “final drifts of girlhood in her voice”, but Lutz teases and more importantly risks a greater edge to this description, this greater edge is coupled later on with the equally genius “from having seen too soon the pleading in things”, this implies a childhood trauma, likely the narrator projecting, but damn I love the weight of this closing sentence, the abstract notion of “the pleading in things”, brilliantly vague and specific, the abrupt and jarring finish of “in things”, the way the sentence and paragraph collapses with a peculiar authority on that harsh note, it’s these things that distinguish Lutz and writers like him from a writer simply going through the motions.

Lutz’z prose blends the highly lyrical and inventive with the lurid and grotesque, his work is like Wallace Stevens recited in a sweaty armpit, it’s visceral addictive stuff. His work and his characters move (or are stuck) in this high brow low brow world, where primal urges mix with deeper existential needs that are never wholly realized or reveled in by many of Lutz’z sad sacks. Often a black humour mixes with the lyrical invention and playfulness, phrases that just pop seductively in the mind, “He called me a man of pronenesses instead of convictions.” There’s a farcical edge to some of it “His body was just profuse foolery.” There’s a danger to his prose, but where there is danger there is something to behold.

It’s bleak stuff, as I’ve previously mentioned when discussing Lutz, after reading his work you feel you need to wash under your fingernails, hug a loved one, go marvel at a flower in the hope it might rekindle some faith that the largely inconsolable and seemingly random order of things in the world does have some beauty but it can not to align with one of Lutz’z narrator’s misanthropic conclusions.

“I don’t know which is finally sicker – specifics or engulfing abstractions.” For Lutz it seems to be both.

Lutz combines this mastery of language with a striking intimacy. For me, first person is a shady area, you have to balance the authenticity of a voice, an I, with something that is actual prose so that it doesn’t result in some glorified corny diary entry or just become tiresome altogether. And Lutz is a master of the I. Lutz expertly blends and balances brevity with detail, sincerity with dishonesty, confession with inconspicuousness, poetry with the putrid.

It feels like his narrators have sidled up to you in some vulnerable moment, they’re half-drunk and have sniffed a heavy line of thesaurus and are ready to tell all, or at least spin some sordid yarn. The confessional air loses a broader dimension to Lutz’z work, that’s his only downfall for me. But it’s a necessary sacrifice, as Lutz questions love and intimacy, finding it brief, confusing, messy, and kind of only ever minutely not seedy, often resulting in jaded revelations like “Everything she claimed to understand about people was no more than hazarded.” This nuggets of introspection and insight are littered throughout his work and allow it a heavier psychological edge.

“Then one who may have gone on to ape something wonderful.” Maybe Lutz considers himself akin to these sad sacks, I have no idea, but regardless, and judging by everything I’ve read by him, he is one who has gone on to ape something wonderful.