Tuesday, March 03, 2009


The last couple of days I've been re-reading, before sending them off to Terry, the proofs to Quickening(1990), Griggs's first collection of short fiction. Nominated for a GG award, but long, long, long out of print. Already there seems to be a bit of buzz about it, mainly tied, it seems, to the Salon controversy last summer (yes, Sina: seems at least a few people did discover the Salon writers for the first time through that endeavour). Terry has penned a short Foreword to the collection I thought I'd post here, as I think it captures so many of the joys that reading Griggs offers, along with the first page from Suddenly, the first story in the collection, to whet your appetite. Revisiting these stories has been one of the highlights so far of 2009, and I envy those of you out there who will be discovering them for the first time.


Having been afforded this indulgence, this luxury, of republication, I thought I might as well add an extra two cents worth of explanation as to why. Quickening was first published in 1990 and contains a gathering of stories that I’d been working on for some time, which I suppose makes this introduction more a backward than a forward, although I’ll try for enough headlong encouragement to propel you into the text.

So, what are these stories; what do they have to offer; are they worth the trouble? Times have changed since they first sidled into the world. Spare, no-nonsense prose, continues to be much lauded, while what falls into the “poetic” category is much less so. Too much work, too flowery–artiness cluttering up the story or disguising its deficiencies. Nothing herein will make your teeth ache, I don’t think, but I do like language. Adverbs, adjectives, syllable-encrusted gems plucked from the word-hoard, tricky turns of phrase–all good stuff. A writer needn’t turn purple in the effort, but frankly, works of miserly, verbal monogamy have never brought me much pleasure. One can be spendthrift and still be precise–a more all-embracing precision. If, as the masterful William Trevor says, “stories, far more than novels, cast spells,” then surely one’s requirements would include a range of wordly wizardry. And true enough, making an entrancing word-woven thing is of great interest to me. Style, life in the line, entertainment of a kind that strikes more than just a glancing blow to the head or heart.

Okay then, suffice to say that the stories in this collection were not written by the Elements of Style rule book. I see them as being fairly straightforward, although the writing can be somewhat textured or layered, what a friend once described as a “thicket.” If the gist of any particular effort here seems overly elusive, a reader might need to venture in like a beater and drive out the game.

Another friend has described these stories as “wide tales” as opposed to tall ones, and that nicely covers the stretch in them. I’ve always been a bit of a fantasist, wanting to let in what lurks on the edges of vision, just beyond view. The droning realism of the everyday? Meh.

Let’s let language be an instrument of expansion, of seeing farther and more and deeper.

I’d write some of these stories differently now (or not at all), but I’ve left them unmolested, and laziness not the only reason. They are what they are; they deal with matters that absorbed me at the time, including some exploratory ways of approaching narrative. Some zig and zag, others host other stories in their innards, and a few are packed like a bulging suitcase, ready to pop open into a longer form. What scant autobiographical detail there is generally morphs into metaphor; here and there germinal fact sprouts into fiction. The imagination has done its work. If nothing else, Quickening represents the start of a writing life that does seem to determinedly persist. As a bonus–or booby prize, depending on one’s view–I’ve also added a story called “Tag” that was written shortly after the collection came out and was first published in What! magazine.

The dog out front with the nick in her ear and the patiently enquiring expression is called Fable.

William Trevor again: “The modern short story may be defined as the distillation of an essence.”

Ah yes, so welcome to my distillery, feel free to sample the brew. Old stuff, well aged, but not, I trust, gone skunky quite yet.

And, from SUDDENLY:


Went, I mean.

Snowflakes streaking past our eyes, stars jiggling up there in the sky.

Foop, into the snowbank.

Buck was laughing to split a gut, and he said, ‘Marsha, you're a kook,’ and I suppose he was right, considering. ‘Exhilarator! Haw, haw.’ He was smacking his hand on the dashboard. Did I say that? I expect I did. You know, words zip out of my mouth assbackwards half the time. Like then, when I hit the, excuse me, accelerator instead of the brakes and couldn't even get the swear­ing right. Probably because I was trying to pray at the same time, ‘Holy Shitface Mother of Bob, not the fender, please not the headlights.’ What we're talking about here is Daddy's brand new Comet GT with the Luxury Decor Option – cut-pile carpeting, colour-keyed vinyl roof and wheel covers, reclining contoured bucket seats – all the spiffy features Daddy couldn't stop jawing about that I'd just parked in a huge fucking snowbank.

‘Shut up, Buck!’ Though I shouldn't have said that, either. Way to impress a guy, eh?

I'd been working on it, too. ‘It’ being Buck and me, some­where alone. Not in a snowbank, I'll admit. That wasn't exactly what I was after. Getting my mitts on Daddy's car hadn't been easy. Getting Buck in it hadn't been easy. He's had his mind, such as it is, on other things lately. Two things, Trudy's, and they keep changing sizes, that's the joke. I nearly had to run him over. ‘Hey, Buckaroo, wanna go for a ride?’

What I wanted from Buck was simple. I wanted his undying love, his thrashing gushing heart in my hand (no matter it was likely cold and blue as a ball of ice), and I wanted to sing in his band, the Tomcats, New Year's Eve at the Lantern. I wanted this pretty bad. Feature me down on my knees every night: Listen up, Bob, you gotta do this for me. I'll wear my black dress, the one I bought in Reitman's in Sudbury with the ruffles around the hem tickling my kneecaps. Hot stuff, or what? I promise I'll be buried in it. You set me up and I'll do the rest.

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