This is a haunting piece. How does it relate to your other writing?
Thanks for the word “haunting.” It’s a very nice thing to say. Short shorts are in some ways their own country. You aren’t spending a lot of time with the reader, so the onus shifts from keeping an audience to trying very quickly to provide something they can take with them, something that dislocates, makes them feel like they’re enmeshed in a place of substance. I’m also a sucker for stories that don’t shy away from sensational moments and those that conspicuously attempt to place their characters within capital “H” history.
Suburbia seems to play a prominent role in determining how the characters in this story behave. What does suburban life imply to you?
I grew up in the suburbs, but these suburbs are not my suburbs. I grew up in the 80s outside a dying steel town, a time and place in which the bloom was pretty well off the suburban rose; it was mall culture and irony. I imagine these people somewhere like Long Island with a father who moved his family out there because he was authentically (if somewhat naively) questing after a better life. A writer who’s been a big influence on me is Richard Yates and I think there’s a phrase on one of his book jackets describing the period about which he’s writing as when “the American dream, finally beginning to come true, starts to ring a little hollow.” For the father in the story, all the promise of various types of security—political, economic, familial—are evaporating at the same time.
At my count this story is only 158 words. Did you play around with different length versions of this before arriving at something so short?
I’ve probably only written three or four short shorts by urgently sitting down with an idea in my head and having the story come out about as fast as I could type and then polishing it. This was one of those stories. I knew exactly the scope of what I wanted to relate: a young person witnessing one adult throwing a potentially high-stakes temper tantrum over a very big issue and another adult succeeding in dealing with it (perhaps only temporarily) in a matter-of-fact way.
What other projects are you currently working on?
I have a collection of short fiction called Fables of the Deconstruction coming out this spring from Spire Press. I’ve been using a lot of time trying to tweak, club, argue and pare its stories into shapes that I hope people will take pleasure in reading. I’d also like to thank America Martin for generously creating the artwork to go with the story.