In a discussion with The New York Times about his latest story collection, George Saunders said, “If there are 10 readers out there, let’s assume I’m never going to reach two of them. They’ll never be interested. And let’s say I’ve already got three of them, maybe four. If there’s something in my work that’s making numbers five, six and seven turn off to it, I’d like to figure out what that is. I can’t change who I am and what I do, but maybe there’s a way to reach those good and dedicated readers that the first few books might not have appealed to” (Lovell).
The Amazon sales rank for my body of work is a mountain range: jagged, cumbersome, precipitous. It goes up as often as it goes down and though at times I see why a spike occurred—an interview, a reading, a higher-profile review—most times the peaks and valleys appear at random, with no indication of validity or meaning.
My wife, not an avid reader of my books, often says my writing is too dense to find her way through. She says the sentences are too thick. Even when I say “You should read this one, you’ll like it, I’m trying really hard to be straight-forward and clear” she doesn’t believe me; I can’t write the way she reads.
Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child is three times referred to in reviews as “magic” or “magical.” I read the first chapters with vast hope for linguistic wisdom, lines that would be, as the Boston Globe put it: “as real and mysterious as winter’s first snowflake” (“The Snow Child”). The novel is good, but for my tastes the “magical” pronouncement remained unsatisfied. The sentences and narrative were linear, not magical, not singularly carved as those of, say, Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet or Brian Evenson’s Dark Property. Simply put: people don’t define “magic” in the same way. The Snow Child is currently #2,597 in Amazon’s sales.
Once, attempting to mainstream how I write, I titled a working manuscript “An Action Adventure Fantasy Blockbuster Million-Dollar Book.” I wrote 487 words before putting it in the recycle bin. It took me a week. Later, I started a manuscript titled “Hallucinations Brought On by Inclement Weather” collaging together pirates, mummies, ghosts, vampires, caves, treasure, and a township where it never stops raining. I’ve been happily working on that one for two years now, loving every moment of it.
My daughter said to me very early this morning, “I didn’t know where my holes were are.” She was talking about her footy pajamas, which she has trouble suiting up in. She is two years old. It was 6:37. That sentence, what she uttered while half hugging me, her hair in slept-on curls, is better than any sentence I’ve written today.
After a rugged fall, riling under hospital watch and painkillers, my grandfather was asked a series of questions by a nurse struggling to compile a report: “Do you know where you are?” “Yeah.” “Do you know where you are right now?” “Yeah.” Frustrated by answers that wouldn’t satisfy her paperwork, she rephrased the question: “What kind of building are we in?” “Brick” he said, smiling.
Peter Markus’s The Singing Fish opens with this sentence: “We watched our father hammer and pound, into our front yard’s ground, a handmade sign that said, in letters big enough for us brothers to read what it said, all the way down from where we were watching, down by the muddy river’s muddy shore: HOUSE FOR SALE” (1). Ernest Hemingway’s “Ten Indians” closes with this sentence: “In the morning there was a big wind blowing and the waves were running high up on the beach and he was awake a long time before he remembered that his heart was broken” (101). These sentences are both the perfect embodiment of a devastated heart.
George Saunders is right. That Amazon sales rank is right. My wife is right. Eowyn Ivey is right and Eowyn Ivey’s reviewers are right. Ben Marcus is right. Brian Evenson is right. “Hallucinations Brought On by Inclement Weather” is right. My daughter is right. My grandfather is right. Peter Markus is right. Ernest Hemingway is right. We are all right.
Hemingway, Ernest. “Ten Indians.” Men Without Women. 1927. New York: Scribner, 1997. Print.
Lovell, Joel. “George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 3 Jan. 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.
Markus, Peter. The Singing Fish. New York: Calamari Press, 2005. Print.
“The Snow Child: A Novel.” Amazon.com. Amazon.com, 2013. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.