Joshua Furst is the author of The Sabotage Cafe. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and has been the recipient of a Michener Fellowship, the Chicago Tribune’s Nelson Algren Award, and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony and Ledig House. Furst is also the author of the story collection, Short People, as well as several plays that have been produced in New York, where for a number of years he taught in the public schools. He lives in New York City.
Peter Handke’s A Sorrow Beyond Dreams, which I read this past summer in an out-of-print Collier edition called 3 X Handke, but which I’ve since learned is back in print thanks to the crusading efforts of the New York Review of Books, is the most searing example of prose literature doing what no other art form can do – engaging the conflict between thought and emotion, building a narrative out of the intersection between ideas and lived experience – that I’ve come across in years. It’s a hybrid form – not quite memoir, but not exactly fiction either – about the life and suicide of his mother, written in the months immediately following her death. Handke struggles with whether or not it’s possible to fully comprehend and articulate her experience, given the depth of feelings this event triggered in him. But this makes the story sound dry and academic. It’s not. It’s shattering, one of those books that invade your consciousness and forever alter your reality.
The most interesting work of new fiction I’ve read this year is also a hybrid form. Mike Heppner, the author of The Egg Code and Pike’s Folly, has been carrying out a literary experiment of sorts. He’s written a series of short fictional pieces questioning the role art plays in the world and the relationship between artists and their own work. Each of these pieces has been brought to the public via a different mode of dissemination. The first, Man Talking, about a mid-career writer’s loss of faith in his ability to communicate, can be downloaded from his website, which also explains the project in depth. The second, Talking Man, about a young child being lectured by his scientist father about all the reasons he shouldn’t waste his life making art, has been published as a chapbook by Small Anchor Press. The third, Man, is a fictional biography of a failed writer named Mike Heppner. If the means of production were the only thing of note about this project, I’d be tempted to call it a clever trick. It’s not though. Word for word, sentence for sentence, these novellas come closer to rendering what it’s like to live right now than most anything else out there.