I Interviewed Brian Evenson

Here’s an excerpt of my interview with Brian Evenson at Rain Taxi:

JM: What are some aspects of artistic creation that you have found “infinitely frustrating”? What are some ways that you circumvent its imprecision?

BE: Well, the thing that’s most frustrating is when I feel like I have all the components for a good story and the story itself just isn’t coming together. Or, even worse, it’s come together but it just isn’t as good as it could be and I can’t figure out why. So much of good fiction is intuition, so much builds up almost imperceptibly through very simple gestures of language and rhythm and repetition and arrangement and velocity, that a really excellent story manages to accomplish something without you knowing what it’s doing to you as it does it. There are a lot of writers who can do that at one iteration, that create that effect the first time you read them but not upon later readings. But there are only a few writers who manage to maintain that effect through multiple readings, who have stories or novels that remain numinous and subtle and resonant no matter how many times you read them. W.G. Sebald is like that for me, as are Nabokov and Dinesen and Beckett at their best. Stendhal is wonderful that way—the complexity of his style and the interaction of that style with his ideas is astounding. Bolaño is remarkable in being someone who holds up with multiple readings but writes in a remarkably unadorned style: that’s incredibly difficult, as you can see with someone like Raymond Carver. You can read most Carver stories once and then you see the mechanisms in them, the way they work as they’re developing. He’s a good writer, but except for a few stories he’s not a writer that stands up well to rereading.

All of that is to say, I guess, that what’s infinitely frustrating about writing is that you so rarely achieve so fully what you want to achieve, and when you do you don’t do so in a way that you can duplicate. I want to write stories that get inside readers’ heads and continue to work on them after the story is over, and I want them to be the kind of stories that, if you reread them, will get into your head and go to work again, maybe in a different way. But there’s always going to be a modicum of failure in every effort. You just have to accept that as part of the process and struggle against it— either that or learn to be satisfied with something you shouldn’t be satisfied with.


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