Writer In Residence, December 2010
Full disclosure, I know Robert Kloss better than I know most of NF’s contributors. We went to grad school together and were in the same workshop once, and we’re friends offline as well as on. But friendship alone isn’t the reason I’m so glad to announce that Rob will be our December 2010 Writer In Residence.
Writers — perhaps especially those in MFA programs — talk a lot about “finding their voice,” and I feel like I’ve had the privilege of watching Rob do that with incredible results. In workshop I admired the intellectual engagement of his fiction, that his stories were wondering and worried with a befitting hesitant seriousness in their voice. But in the last year or two I’ve admired and envied at once as he’s found a style of sentence, of syntax, and of form that has taken his stories into whole new dimensions. He has a recurring visual vocabulary of alligators and fires and parents and sons that are as powerfully “his” as brothers, mud, and moon belong to Peter Markus, and rather than limiting the breadth of his work those recurring objects and ideas (among others) take on new resonance each time Rob uses them. I’ve had the privilege of reading both of his inexplicably unpublished manuscripts, and have been honored to publish a section of one.
He writes about politics without the thinness of weak allegory, as in “An Articulation of Blades”:
The new king hunted wolves through our city streets. Yellow eyes and backs arched. Wolf packs bounded down city streets chasing cars, and eating garbage and the new king followed high above amidst a whirr of chopper blades. Wolves cowered behind dumpsters and packing crates in back alleys and high above, the blaze orange king, and high above, forest of blades.
And he writes about family mythologies through the lens of classical ones, as in “The Heracles House”:
O madness of Heracles! Eyes red muddied with blood of son, blood of wife. A maniac chase through hallways and bedrooms, where screams yet echo.
The son, Pete, cowered under a bed, his blood puddle’d. Gagging tears and hiccups, the roaring of maniac father. Atmosphere swirled, dust of walls, thin pink mist of blood.
And he writes about Napoleon and Gatsby and Chaplin, too, in ways you can’t even imagine until you read what he does with those lives. In those interrogations of historical figures and their legacies, as in all his best work, there’s an aware, acute, and apparent conversation between writer and sources. Not the anxiety of influence so much as its embrace, though perhaps a grappling one like an unspoken contest for handshake dominance between men of a particular stripe, men like the fathers who often emerge in Rob’s stories.
I’m tempted here to speculate on his midwestern background making him an all-American melting pot — and that melting pot being one that roils like a volcano, not some gentle simmer — which is to say I’m tempted to overdo that metaphor in a way one of his stories wouldn’t stand for, so I’d best try to resist. Instead I’ll just say how much I’m looking forward to his project this month, one that places that ongoing conversation with other writers front and center, and now I’d best step out of the way to make room.