Matthew Kneale's Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance

I’ve never really understood the notion of “guilty pleasure” when it comes to individual reading preferences. If one occasionally likes to indulge in horror or sci-fi, what’s wrong with that? (And given that we live in a society in which the majority of people’s reading habits extend little further than reading texts and Tweets, it’s a marvel that people are even reading at all.) Yet I felt something akin to guilty pleasure while reading Matthew Kneale’s collection of short stories, Small Crimes in an Age of Abundance. Part of me felt I shouldn’t be enjoying these stories as much as I did. I say this because, for one thing, Kneale’s prose style is decidedly flat and not especially interesting. There is none of the usual beautiful and poetic turns of phrase or unexpected word choices that often characterize more literary fiction. (Ben Fountain’s Brief Encounters with Che Guevara, for example—another collection I recently read—explodes with his brilliant use of language.) There was also none of the usual “challenge” that sometimes accompanies more literary works: stories in which next to nothing happens and are so nuanced and subtle that you wonder at the end of it: “Did I miss something?” Or novels and stories that we secretly admit are slightly boring, but we force ourselves to read anyway because of the salutary benefits we believe we’ll reap in the long run. No, Kneale’s collection is a very quick and easy read, and there is nothing subtle about these stories either: we in the West are bad, the things we complain about are petty, and we’re guilty of not being particularly interested in the sufferings of those in developing countries.

Colm Toibin's The Story of the Night

On my end table, beside the couch, is a stack of “to-read” books. It’s an ever-growing pile, and a situation not ameliorated by the intermittent arrival of yet another book that always manages to sneak its way to the front of the queue. But there are times when I face the dilemma of not knowing what to read next. Of course I want to read all of these books—and I do—only not all them suit whatever I might be craving at the moment. Recently, after ferreting through this pile, I settled on an almost unexpected choice, Colm Toibin’s 1997 novel, The Story of the Night, and I realized what it was I’d been hankering after without even knowing it: some good writing told from the perspective of a gay male protagonist—something, I realized, I don’t get enough of.

Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time

After having read Proust, I was told I now had to read the “British Proust,” Anthony Powell. At first, I demurred: reading a million-word novel once was enough, thank you. But when I was recently in a used bookshop and happened upon the twelve volumes that constitute Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time, I thought I’d give him a shot.

Brockton Writers Reading Series

Please join me Wednesday, July 12, at Glad Day Bookshop for the Brockton Writers reading series. It's their annual Queer Night, and I'll be reading alongside Terence Go, jes sachse, and Kai Cheng Thom, as well as special guest speaker, S. Bear Bergman. Glad Day Bookshop is now at 499 Church Street, and the event kicks off at 6:30. For more details, look here or here. Hope to see you then!

Story Acceptance!

Fantastic news! I just learned today that my story "Stunts" was accepted for publication in The New Quarterly! Thanks to the people at Moosemeat, my writing group, for all the insightful feedback I got, and in particular to Isabel Matwawana who was especially assiduous about going over the story several times with a fine-tooth comb. The story will come out in either the Winter or Spring issue. Very excited!

Favourite Short Stories

I teach an introductory fiction course, and like many such courses the focus is on short fiction. Recently, at the start of this summer semester, after my usual enthusiastic welcome, one of my students asked me a question after class that part of me has always secretly hoped to be asked: “What’s your favourite short story?”

Rachel Cusk's Outline and Transit

When I first learned that Rachel Cusk’s novel 2014 Outline was about a failed marriage, I didn’t think I would be interested. But then I read the first few paragraphs:

Before the flight I was invited for lunch at a London club with a billionaire I’d been promised had liberal credentials. He talked in his open-necked shirt about the new software he was developing, that could help organisations identify the employees most likely to rob and betray them in the future. We were meant to be discussing a literary magazine he was thinking of starting up: unfortunately I had to leave before we arrived at that subject. He insisted on paying for a taxi to the airport, which was useful since I was late and had a heavy suitcase.
       The billionaire had been keen to give me the outline of his life story, which had begun unprepossessingly and ended—obviously—with him being the relaxed, well-heeled man who sat across the table from me today. (3)