Greg Gerke’s fiction and non-fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Tin House, The Kenyon Review Online, Denver Quarterly, Quarterly West, LIT, Film Quarterly, and others.
His story, "Such a Sweet Meat," appeared in issue Sixty-Three of The Collagsit.
Here, he speaks with interviewer Gary Josh Garrison about NYC construction/deconstruction, babydom, and the pleasures of Henry James.
This is a highly digressive story (in the best way) that tangents through a life and (what feels like) a moment almost unnervingly. How did you first come to this piece?
Since I wrote the two and a half years ago, I'm not so sure exactly how I came to this story, though I am sure it was through a feeling, probably a disjunctive one. Something wasn't sitting right with me and I wrote to flush it out, as despair and worry can be bile to my mind. Since it was summer, the booming noises of New York were in full flare/flair. There must have been construction going on. It's gotten progressively worse with the city allowing developers to do just about anything in ridiculous pose of “helping the economy” and “creating jobs”—utter bullshit. The only aim is more wealth and using cheap labor and lax safety to satiate that awesome hunger. The construction noise led to a deconstruction of a character's life, so perhaps I should thank the construction crews who pay no heed to regulations about time, safety, and other circumstance—thank Christ I could forge something from their pollution.
At one point Freud and his theories are casually dismissed by Bella, but even before that moment it's hard not to think of him while reading this story. How much did Freud influence you during the writing of this piece?
To my discredit, I haven't read Freud seriously. I err on the side of Jung.
For such an intimate and intrusive story that delves into the psyche of George, I think one of the most exciting aspects is the way the narration is unafraid to venture into the perspective of Bella. How do you see these shifts working?
I feel the shifts as the most natural way the narrative could unfold, which is probably a foolish statement, since I'm the author. And for another monstrosity, but in all honesty, I'll add that I was just doing what the muse directed me to do. Suddenly, the psyche of George lost its avoirdupois, and the narrative needed another figure to play off of and imbue with metaphor. A screen character, as they say, to view the overall through. I don't know how other people write or read, but I think I respond to things that have little to do with the sense of the story and have more in common with voice and sound. A few days ago I gave a reading and I could only really listen to the sound of the voice of the other readers—that's all I wanted. I didn't want to follow the story, I just wanted to be read to—to have quiet in this day and age and to have the only sound being a voice. One could say I wanted to return to the pre-language days of babydom. All the other readers were women, and they all had a very specific way of vocalizing, of tossing the sound through the air. Maybe it's an attempt to erase the intellect from the experience. I don't want to judge what I hear, I only want to feel it's reverberations.
What are you reading at the moment?
At the moment, I'm reading a few things. I've tentatively started William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience, which I'm reading with a distant friend. I'm not sure how far I'll get. It's on one hand sprightly, but also highly digressive, which has to be some sort of plus. I thought it might be fun to read his brother Henry James at the same time, and so I've started The Spoils of Poynton. It might be another year of reading Henry James, so I plan to read novels and tales between 1897-1901, the period of his taking fiction beyond the heavy realist mode after his failure as a playwright, as well as when he started to dictate his novels to a secretary, which is claimed to have happened in the middle of “writing”What Maisie Knew. It seems so many of my generation and the few before me are not reading him, so I feel obliged to take upon the weight of reading him for them. But I don't experience James as a hair shirt—there's a singular pleasure in his prose, though it can be like playing Rafael Nadal on a clay court. But such an experience can only make you better. I don't mean a better person, but a better seer. It shows you the vastness of the world by examining the worlds in every person. Whether you are a writer or not—there's something James touches, the uncanny and something beyond infinite (like Kubrick's 2001, The Shining, and Eyes Wide Shut), that can expand one's inner vision.
What are you currently working on?
Currently, there is the obligatory novel, which can even be called the obligatory set-in-New-York (Manhattan/Brooklyn) novel. I read a segment at a launch for a book of stories that just came out, My Brooklyn Writer Friend (pieces of which were also in The Collagist), and the crowd seemed to like it, including a number of writers whose approbations are important to me. I don't know how it will end, but I had Henry James's “International novels”in mind, thinking one of the character's would go to Europe for the obligatory “finding of oneself.”Yet now, I'm beginning to think that parts of the United States have enough of their own myth and manners and so a character might just take a jaunt to California to throw a wrench into his or her life that New York can't provide.