Tuesday June 24, 2014
Short story writer Stuart Dybek discussed his latest collections, Paper Lantern: Love Stories and Ecstatic Cahoots: Stories, which are being released concurrently.
About Ecstatic Cahoots: Stories (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
In this remarkable collection of bite-size stories, Stuart Dybek, one of our most prodigious writers, explores the human appetite for rapture and for trust. With fervent intensity and sly wit, he gives each tale his signature mix of characters—some almost ghostly, others vividly real—who live in worlds tinged with surreal potential. There are crazed nuns hijacking streetcars, eerie adventures across frozen ponds, and a boy who is visited by a miniature bride and groom every night in his uncle’s doomsday compound. Whether they are about a simple transaction, a brave inquiry, a difficult negotiation, or shared bliss, the stories in Ecstatic Cahoots target the friction between our need for ecstatic self-transcendence and our passionate longing for trust between lovers, friends, family, and even strangers.
Call it micro-fiction or mini-fiction, flash fiction or short shorts. Whatever the label, the marvelous encounters here are marked by puzzlement, anguish, and conspiratorial high spirits. In this thrilling collection, Stuart Dybek has once again re-envisioned the possibilities of fiction, creating myriad human situations that fold endlessly upon each other, his crackling prose drawing out the strange, the intimate, and the mysterious elements in each.
About Paper Lantern: Love Stories (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
A new collection of short stories by a master of the form with a common focus on the turmoils of romantic love
On command the firing squad aims at the man backed against a full-length mirror. The mirror once hung in a bedroom, but now it’s cracked and propped against a dumpster in an alley. The condemned man has refused the customary last cigarette but accepted as a hood the black slip that was carelessly tossed over a corner of the mirror’s frame. The slip still smells faintly of a familiar fragrance.
So begins “Tosca,” the first in this vivid collection of Stuart Dybek’s love stories. Operatically dramatic and intimately lyrical, grittily urban and impressionistically natural, the varied fictions in Paper Lantern all focus on the turmoil of love as only Dybek can portray it. An execution triggers the recollection of a theatrical romance; then a social worker falls for his own client; and lovers part as giddily, perhaps as hopelessly, as a kid trying to hang on to a boisterous kite. A flaming laboratory evokes a steamy midnight drive across terrain both familiar and strange, and an eerily ringing phone becomes the telltale signature of a dark betrayal. Each story is marked with contagious desire, spontaneous revelation, and, ultimately, resigned courage. As one woman whispers when she sets a notebook filled with her sketches drifting out to sea, “Someone will find you.”
Some of Dybek’s characters recur in these stories, while others appear only briefly. Throughout, they—and we—are confronted with vaguely familiar scents and images, reminiscent of love but strangely disconcerting, so that we might wonder whether we are looking in a mirror or down the barrel of a gun. “After the ragged discharge,” Dybek writes, “when the smoke has cleared, who will be left standing and who will be shattered into shards?” Paper Lantern brims with the intoxicating elixirs known to every love-struck, lovelorn heart, and it marks the magnificent return of one of America’s most important fiction writers at the height of his powers.
Stuart Dybek is the author of four other books of fiction as well as two collections of poetry. The recipient of many prizes and awards—including the PEN/Malamud Award, an Arts and Letters Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Whiting Writers’ Award, and four O. Henry Awards—he is the Distinguished Writer in Residence at Northwestern University. He divides his time between Evanston, Illinois, Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the Florida Keys.
Roxana Robinson is the author of nine books, most recently of the novel Sparta, and is president of The Authors Guild where she is a eloquent advocate for authors' rights.