News · 06/28/2011

Writer In Residence, July 2011

A few months ago, in the days after Christmas, I sat down to read Tim Horvath’s novella Circulation. I read it, then without getting up from my chair I turned back to the beginning and read it again. It’s a deceptive book, physically slight but dense with the complexities of family and history and geology — as jam-packed and wide-ranging as a good library, perhaps like the one where its narrator works. It turned out be almost as Review of Contemporary Fiction described it, “Perfect for an afternoon of quick rumination.” Except not so quick, in my case, because I’m still thinking about it months later. So it’s a great pleasure to announce that Tim Horvath will be our Writer In Residence for the month of July 2011.

Circulation is, among other things, a story about making sense, about finding the Rosetta Stone of everyday language and everyday life. Of the brothers at the core of the story, one works one in the invisible, intangible webs of finance, and the other in the equally ethereal webs of knowledge and books. Like their father with his inevitably unfinished book about everything — his Atlas of the Voyages of Things — each brother is looking for nodes where the infinite strands of the world can be felt, if not quite pinned down, for a moment. As Horvath told The Nervous Breakdown recently,

I’m really into those far-reaching connections, which you can see in Circulation in the conceit that everything is connected. The infinite exists not only in the grain of sand but in the high gloss granite countertop.

Those points of connection are, at the risk of taking the book’s spelunking too literally, where a rare ray of light penetrates Plato’s cave and we get a better view of ourselves and of others around us and, if we’re lucky, of the wider world beyond our constrained view. As the book’s narrator puts it,

At some point in the process of sorting through my father’s things, I realized that caves and cave-related items were demanding the formation of a third pile. Indeed, this would keep me on my toes — pictures of the interiors of caves bear a striking resemblance to certain close-up treatments of the human body.

Tim’s stories are often concerned with language and communication, or the failure of communication. One of the traits I so admire in his fiction is the balance of abstract ideas with an immediate, vulnerable physicality to give those ideas their weight. The stakes are always higher than ideas for their own sake, as in “Internodium,” published at Everyday Genius, which begins:

Our talking is a kudzu of carotids in which we lose our marbles. Hours later they tumble out as we are snoring, awakening us one at a time, hard little tumors we flick underneath one another. By morning we lie like border states whose boundaries are rivers, anomalously straight, canals funded by nature.

That’s language trying its damnedest to say what it wants to but struggling against its own limits, as we all do, and with such a strong sense of some person struggling behind those words. It’s there, too, in “Urban Planning: Case Study #7” at Wigleaf, when language and the people who speak it insist, against all evidence, that the world can be made something other if we will it enough with our words:

In the city that was in denial that it was a city, they used the expression “sweet hickory borne on the wind” often, but most of all on days when the wind was carrying southeast from the waste treatment plant.

But before I get carried away with overthinking and belie my whole point, let me instead share what Jason Behrend’s wrote at Orange Alert in his moving response to Circulation:

It is a story about coming to understand who your father is and in the process discovering how you truly feel about yourself. It is a book filled with symbolic gestures and storytelling, but at its core it is filled with heart.

I’m sure this month ahead will be equal parts head and heart, too, and will, as Tim told The Nervous Breakdown,

reanimate the words by bringing them into the room, reading them out loud as alertly and receptively as one can humanly muster as a way of reminding ourselves why we’re all there.

I, for one, look forward to being reminded.