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Smoke & Mirrors with Gabriel Houck

Interview by Michael Czyzniejewski (Read the Story) June 21, 2021

Gabriel Houck

Gabriel Houck

Is there any good way to give bad news?

A subsurface iceberg-sized chunk of my personality is built around not giving bad news, so if there’s a good answer here, I’d like to know it, too.

Certain memories are burned on our brains. What memory is most prominently burned onto yours?

Putting my first dog down. I lived in Nebraska and had been bargaining with death for a while—one more year, one more winter—until it was clear the balance had zeroed out for her. I lived my life terrified of (and thus obsessed with) the moment of her dying. It was the place nobody could go with you, and so for my dog, I felt this obligation to see her little boat as far out into the water as possible.

Of course the grief of actually doing this was terrible. I still see the vet carrying her body away. But as time passed, my brain rewrote that day with a different script that’s developed in its aftermath. I held my dog’s face in two hands the whole time. I spoke to the white-tip fur of her ears. She could see me, then she couldn’t, just one second slipping into another, but what a gift to give her that kind of death. What joy. Though I do not know God, I hope for such hands on my face when the time comes. I am not by any means a good person, but I count this among my few good deeds, my few promises honored.

Save people and pets, what in your house would you least like to see sucked out by a tornado?

After pandemic, part of me would be happy to see just about everything I own taken by a tornado. Stuff has momentum and puts down roots all on its own. At best, stuff becomes a museum. At worst, it’s an unhappy mirror, a dependent child, or a prison. Maybe one day I’ll be ready to live in a museum, but until then: Take it all, tornado.

However—I have a very bad memory. If I have worthwhile thoughts, I try to capture glimpses of them in a notebook; often these are just lists, phrases, names, words. I enjoy Joan Didion’s descriptions of her notebooks, and her interrogation of their mysterious, apocryphal contexts. That’s a form of time travel, a universe all on its own. If I were allowed to ask, I’d hope the storm would spare me these. A kind, writerly tornado would understand. She would know the neurons probably wouldn’t ever fire quite that way again.

About the Author

Gabriel Houck currently teaches in the Creative Writing program at Emory University. His first story collection, You or a Loved One, won the 2017 Orison Fiction Prize. His fiction appears in Glimmer Train, Mid American Review, The Sewanee Review, West Branch, The Cimarron Review and elsewhere, and his stories “When the Time Came” and “The Dot Matrix” were selected as distinguished stories in The Best American Short Stories in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

About the Interviewer

Michael Czyzniejewski’s fourth collection of stories, The Amnesiac in the Maze, is forthcoming from Braddock Avenue Books in 2023.

This interview appeared in Issue Seventy-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Two

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