New Review at The Quarterly Conversation: Stephen Dixon, What Is All This?

The Winter 2011 (2011?) Quarterly Conversation is live. It includes my review of What Is All This?, the new Stephen Dixon short story collection. The review begins sort of like this, though you’ll have to go over there to see the footnotes (footnotes?):

What Is All This? is a potent, refreshing collection of previously uncollected short stories by Stephen Dixon. Though the music world might label this an “odds-and-sods” collection, this volume cannot be dismissed so lightly. This? is a book that reminds us fans why we enjoy Dixon’s writing and gives inquiring neophytes an excellent opportunity to sample the kinds of things he has gotten up to over the last five decades.

Any attempt to sum up Dixon as a writer would be a fool’s quest. So, allow me: he uses male narrators and a lot of dialogue and limited description and down-to-earth language, except when he doesn’t. His language can be transparent, translucent, opaque. His sentences can last for pages; three words alone can knock you out of your chair. He avoids grand statements and shuns the workshopped sheen of the parabolic arc, preferring instead straight lines or scribbles, action that bleeds off the edges or compresses all into boxes of black ink. Sometimes he shatters frames and builds new things from the slivers. Sometimes, his stories are simply stories. To put his work in context, the back flap author bio has it that Dixon grew up reading Joyce, Hemingway, and Kafka. Fair enough: his work reads like each filtered through the rest.

Also, timing is everything, I suppose? The December 2010 issue of Bookslut includes a lengthy, excellent interview with Stephen Dixon (not by me). The money quote comes down at the bottom and gives me the chills:

You have been working on a novel, His Wife Leaves Him, for the last four to five years. How would you best describe the scope and scale of this epic length work-in-progress?

I’m not quite sure. It’s definitely my most emotional work as well as, perhaps, being my funniest. It might also be my most adventurous structurally, and also the cleanest and clearest writing I’ve ever done. It’s also my most elegiac. I’ve never been so satisfied with a work, which is why it’s so difficult to complete. I don’t want to let it go, but it’s told me recently I have to — that I’ve come to the perfect finish — and anything beyond what I’ve planned as the ending will hurt the book.

Today’s November 15. I’d say that by December 1, the novel will be done. It won’t reach 900 pages, but it’ll be close.

Uhm. Yes. Please.