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Aug 02, 2006



Thanks, Kellie, for dropping by. It's interesting that you mention Elkin, because it never occurred to me that Elkin's surrealism was a strong influence upon your work. Looking at Skin in hindsight, perhaps this represents how easily I overlook that Elkin was also a distinctly Midwestern fiction writer and that this brand of Midwesternism, which concerns itself with that cultural depository we discussed in our interview, is something that I need to pay more attention to. (Incidentally, these Midwestern roots are very much revealed in another book I'm reading right now: Richard Powers' The Echo Maker.)

Dan Wickett

Thanks Kellie, for plenty of the above. It's always interesting to me to see where authors attribute some of their literary roots. Not too long ago, I picked up a copy of The Magic Kingdom per the many times it was recommended by my fellow LBC'er from The Rake's Progress. I'll have a hard time reading it without keeping this essay in mind.

Dan Wickett


As your bring it up near the end of your post - can you dig a little deeper into your comment about the "woman writer whose aesthetic is, well, eye-catching," and the results of this as you've perhaps witnessed directly?

Kellie Wells

Thanks, Ed, for your observation. I don’t really have a theory about why Midwestern writers might be more interested in or have a nostalgia for that “cultural depository” of objects like cap guns and spirographs and places like now defunct department stores (I’m sorry to say I’ll be no more articulate on the subject today than when we spoke), but I think a novel like Elkin’s *The Franchiser* is perhaps in part examining exactly that sort of appetite or fascination, though for Elkin this is always part and parcel of rhetoric I would say, an opportunity for shtick. Here’s a little of what William Gass has said on the subject:

“The Franchiser is engaged, then, in the naming of names, the names of places and people, of course, but above all the names of things: commercial enterprises of all kinds, name brands, house brands, brandless brands, labels, logos, zits. Elkin composes a song from the clutter of the country, a chant out of that ‘cargo of crap’ that comprises our culture, the signs, poles, boxes, wires, the stores along the roads and highways, our motorcars. He writes with the stock in trade and with the salesman's slang. About the tissues, rags, and wipers that are appropriate to every fixture and furnishing--bowl, screen, or clockface, asshole or cheery cheek--he knows, and taps out the call sign, grasping the peculiar argot of every agency, the specific slant of every occupation, the angle, the outlook--the edge.”

I live in St. Louis, where Elkin lived for many years, and one of the things I really like about it is that it’s a city filled with self-loathing, a city that hangs its head as it shuffles along, a city that wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would have it as a member, because it’s a deeply disappointed city, a fallen city. It was a world class contender once, and it was surprising to me at first how often the 1904 World’s Fair continues to be trotted out wistfully, as though it were just yesterday, as St. Louis’s shining moment and the legacy that makes it possible that it will rise again. I’m originally from Kansas City, which I think is, in some ways, a similarly disappointed city, and I want to say there’s a relationship between being from a place that, in certain circles, you’re expected to speak of apologetically and a willingness (or a freedom?) to chronicle (to use your word) or examine American life through its passing objects and game shows and fast food franchises. But, well, hmmm.

And to respond to your question, Dan, that’s one of those pot-stirring toss-offs that really would take an essay to properly unravel (sorry!), so I’ll just say that Kathryn Davis is a writer I so admire, and she’s a meticulous and daring stylist, so I was encouraged recently by the attention that her most recent novel, *The Thin Place*, received. But when I look at journals, anthologies, conference panels, etc., devoted to daring (an admittedly baggy designation) writing, I’m not always so encouraged. Remember all the hubbub a couple of years ago surrounding the nominees for the National Book Award?

Thanks again to both of you for your comments!

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