Sarah Gorham, Editor-in-Chief:
Ander Monson submitted his manuscript Other Electricities to the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction. Peter Rock was one of the first readers and plucked it, as well as the winner Edith Pearlman, from the slush pile. Both manuscripts, along with a few more from the other first readers went along to the judge Joanna Scott. To tell you the truth, we were rooting for Ander's book, but were satisfied with the judge's choice as well. Since Sarabande publishes finalists too, we grabbed OE faster than you could blink an eye. In our mind, the book was ambitious, strange, moving, inventive, and very very cool. We loved it, but also felt the structure was a little messy. There were threads of this and that intimating connections between stories, and we thought these could be tied up a bit. We suggested a map to keep the characters straight, for example. My suggestions were macro, Kirby took over for the micro edit. Ander generously agreed to many changes and rewriting. The result was something wondrous to behold. This book was a perfect example of something we do because we love innovation and unusual talent: take a chance on a book that might not fit into the mainstream and give it the full Sarabande treatment. We're delighted to see how much dialogue has surrounded this title, and how much wonderful press it has received. It's great, and the book is more than deserving.
The manuscript of Other Electricities stood apart from the usual manuscripts we receive because of a number of factors that we only rarely see coalesce in the same writer: an energetic, sometimes even manic prose style that, while capable of wild flights of lyricism, reveled in its own exactitude of language; inventive structures that did not come off as coy or overly contrived; philosophical and emotional depth combined with ribald humor; and, finally, that rarest of gifts—a unique vision.
My first read-through left me fumbling for what to do as the book’s line-editor. It was a pleasure to read, but the original manuscript sprawled a bit more than the published version, and confusion became a risk. Thus the editing process turned on how to maintain the book’s expansive reach, with its many characters—an entire community, really—while at the same time tightening its focus, limiting the number of strands a reader would have to keep in mind as he or she read further into the collection (or novel, as the author prefers it). Although we loved the more playful aspects of the manuscript (the diagrams, maps, et cetera), there were many more examples of these in the original version, and Ander and I worked on trying to employ these in ways that would only enhance his prose accomplishments, and not detract from them.
All in all, I believe Ander pulled it off beautifully. I cannot think of another work of fiction that “functions” in quite the same way as Other Electricities: how the stories and people seem to fold over and into one another, the deeper one reads; how the author evokes absence and explores its ramifications in so many ways, as he does also with distance, and emptiness, and, of course, cold. It’s a ghostly and sad and wintry book, appropriate to its milieu of the U.P., and yet there’s so much hilarity and fervent love of life in it, too. To balance so many concerns in such a short space—a mere 164 pages—is a feat I don’t believe many writers can do.