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Ange Mlinko on Gary Lutz

Gary Lutz’s Complete Works are the subject of a first-rate analysis and appraisal by Ange Mlinko in the latest London Review of Books. Mlinko’s essay is equal parts career retrospective and close, close reading.

[Lutz’s] stories often have ingenious titles like ‘SMTWTFS’, ‘Onesome’, ‘Esprit de l’elevator’ or ‘Chaise Lozenge’. We are carried from hook to hook, like the insomniac narrator who ‘crossed each night by linking one minute securely to the next, building a bridge that swung through the dark’. The pleasurable surprises in these stories have little to do with plot or character. They are lexical, metaphorical and often very droll, which is enough to distract the reader from the spectacular denudation of the lives, couples and truncated families portrayed. Here, in this landlocked, hilly Pennsylvanian grisaille (which could well be an outpost of Central Europe, Moravia maybe), a narrator is interminably, indeterminately, in middle age: “I was just doing the weary thing of being in my forties”; “I was a man dropping already well through my forties, filthy with myself”; “Forty I was, and then fortier, fluking through my annual reviews”; “At the time of which I write, my middle forties, people were expected to provide their own transportation.”

Male and female narrators are interchangeable; sex or gender is no more than window-dressing on bodies that locate equally interchangeable objects of desire, men or women, girls or boys, almost always nameless, living in apartments together or alone, in wretched marriages or in the wake of vituperative divorces, commuting in cars that double as personal offices and trash receptacles, going to McDonald’s or anonymous coffee shops and diners and, most of all, going to work: “I was a flask-shaped man in a velour shirt sitting at long lunchroom tables in business schools, cosmetology schools, junior colleges, community colleges. My business was buying used textbooks and crating them off to a distributor.” … The sterile vocabulary of offices is subtly deployed to show how deeply it structures our perceptions.