Alexander Slotnick is a West Coast writer, though HENRY wishes he would be a New York City writer again. Slotnick’s work has appeared in The Last Magazine, the journal and the San Francisco Chronicle. He wrote about Nabokov’s link to Lana Del Rey for Tiny Mixtapes.
Where are you from, and where are you currently living?
I live in San Francisco now, and I was born here, but I grew up in Virginia Beach, VA, in some woods. The road was called Little Haven, but it got very dark at night.
Your reading is an excerpt from a longer story, Thetis and Son. How did you select the passage you chose to read for HENRY?
The excerpt is abstract. The video is vague. The footage looks like some weak symbolism for travel, a sense of movement. But that’s the trap: the “journey” is a farce, and in fact it’s about the physical car itself. I found that appealing. The silent smack of that steel reality is, I hope, like the jolt of an actual car crash, which the larger story is all about.
With so much rich imagery in Thetis, how did you settle on pairing car crashes with your text? Did you have any anxieties about utilizing such a grisly footage?
The Greeks said that Thetis was the mother of Achilles. Meanwhile, this narrator is an ass, and overeducated—which, of course, might explain his assery. The kid’s whole life is driving drunk, everyday, for kicks. The punch line, of course, is that he really does seem invincible; the just deserts are never served. Fate is tempted, but for this narrator fate is fiction, a lie, as are the classics, as is the reality of his becoming roadkill or meeting a semi head-on. I did have some apprehension using this footage. It could easily collapse into “shock tactic.” But it’s real. Fiction is often about drawing that distinction, the chalk outline around the body of reality, then using that same chalk to draw whole worlds. No fiction can be fiction without some reality to first go kaput. This narrator can’t see the dividing lines anymore, and he’s tortured. I wanted to illustrate the gap.
Have you ever faceted your prose work with a supplementary sensory layer before? Your work often concerns music, particularly, rock n’ roll: is a multi-media approach one you’ve previously considered?
In the past, my final products have always been pure prose. Other mediums help me though. I’ve written whole paragraphs by looking at photographs and just describing their contents. I got the idea from Francis Bacon, the painter, who would only paint portraits from photographs, never from life. He’d use found photos or hire photographers to take pictures of subjects, then use those photos later.
How did it feel to channel your narrator? Do you often read your own work aloud as it develops?
Language is an exceptionally visual medium for me. When I first learn a person’s name, I imagine its various possible spellings in my head. I used to read my work aloud, but now less and less. When I read silently, I sometimes notice rhythm and resonance that seem to disappear when the sentence is reread through the distortion of my vocal chords. HENRY, though, replaces written words with moving mouths (or cars, apparently). There are films that you watch, and then there are films with subtitles that you half-watch and half-read, and then there’s HENRY, which you watch, and then read, and then read and watch.
Which readings have most impacted you as a writer? Who would you most like to see read?
In college I saw a professor read some stanzas from “The Waste Land” to his full hall. It was spirited, and the girl in the row ahead of me had a sudden, full-on seizure. The professor, walking the aisles, didn’t notice and kept on pitching his voice while the TA knelt to her side. It was terrifying. Surely, coincidence was god of the day, but I’d never seen literature seem so visceral. Otherwise, Thomas Pynchon read a few lines from Inherent Vice for that book’s 2009 trailer, and he’s exceptional. Also see Frederick Seidel’s Ooga Booga as read by the author. And finally, I’d like to see Cormac preaching as Judge Holden, please.
Read the full text of Alexander Slotnick’s short story “Thetis and Son” on his blog, here.
All content was created by and belongs to Alexander Slotnick, with the exception of the final shot, which was found on YouTube, posted by user yarogee.