Gary Lutz’s writing is untranslatable; rather, any Lutz translation would be so far afield from the original wording and meaning of his writing that it might as well not be a translation at all. A mimicry, perhaps. But probably a mockery. That’s because Lutz writes into the core of actions, thoughts, and feelings with such a drastic disregard for how the English language typically works that his writing reads like a language all its own ... There are few if any American writers who can vocalize the crushing despair of late capitalist malaise in a mere five sentences ... Brevity is Lutz’s strength. Severe, crushing, prose so compacted, abstract, and emotionally resonant that you have no idea what he is saying but you know exactly what he means. The best of Stories in the Worst Way and Partial List of People to Bleach contain such manic fervor and confessional density that they feel like holy chunks of Lutz’s soul coughed up onto the page. Gary Lutz is perhaps the best American writer of very short fictions. His best works are superior to those of his many imitators. Hyperbole, you say? Read the book and see.
We are carried from hook to hook, like the insomniac narrator who ‘crossed each night by linking one minute securely to the next, building a bridge that swung through the dark’. The pleasurable surprises in these stories have little to do with plot or character. They are lexical, metaphorical and often very droll, which is enough to distract the reader from the spectacular denudation of the lives, couples and truncated families portrayed ... Male and female narrators are interchangeable; sex or gender is no more than window-dressing on bodies that locate equally interchangeable objects of desire ... In his work, there are none of the markers of privilege beloved of other middle-class American fiction writers...addiction or recovery, prison or church membership. The semi-anonymity of the narrators, the gender fluidity, the middling nature of the lives lived, seems to be an attempt to approximate common denominators ... Lutz’s prose is licentious in the archaic sense—a double libertinism. But I shouldn’t give the impression that his Nabokovian flights lift this overcast world into jouissance. Quite the opposite: with Lutz, the materiality of words is not all downy lip and butterflies: it’s as likely—think of the stalactite in the girl’s nostril—to be nauseating ... a ‘lutz’ is ‘a jump in skating with a backward take-off from the backward outside edge of one skate to the backward outside edge of the other, with one or more full turns in the air’. I take this definition from my Apple dictionary, whose wording, so much more awkward than the OED’s, perfectly describes the backward-outside-and-reverse athletics that Gary Lutz performs on the page.
Lutz’s stories are less the literary equivalent of stylized Instagram snapshots or artsy TikTok videos than careful montages made from the serial recordings of a surveillance camera: they often capture the ephemerality of a memory-moment, but what remains in the caption afterwards is the faintest evidence —like the graphic documentation of slight intensity oscilations in a continuous energy flow — of the storytelling’s permanent inadequacy to tell a story ... Lutz finds a viable alternative to what David Foster Wallace once considered the arrogant cynicism of the postmodern intellectual artist, without slipping down into the superficial naturalism of sincerity cults. There’s no nostalgia or hypocritical self-deprecating in those, often happily, undetermined protagonists. Lutz’s characters approach the infrathin space left by the general collapse of privacy and intimacy with the deep sincerity of someone who’s naively caught into the language trap ... We must be grateful to Tyrant Books for putting all of Gary Lutz’s stories together in this volume — with the hope that The Complete Gary Lutz will be not so complete soon.
Most readers, I’d imagine, will politely pass, siding with my friend who suggested that Lutz’s work would be improved by its translation into English. But a passionate few—those of us known to recite his sentences as if they were song lyrics—will find cause to rejoice ... Taken as a whole, the volume offers less an illustration of authorial evolution than one of remarkable artistic consistency...Which is to say: Lutz emerged fully formed, style-markers and preoccupations intact ... For a writer like Lutz, the omnibus is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, one can’t help but feel awe at the sheer quantity of pristinely ornamented sentences collected here. On the other, these stories are not meant for rapid consumption ... Further, one gets worn down by the relentless bleakness of Lutz’s worldview and the tonal homogeneity of his stories.
...aggrieved, heart-dragging short stories ... Language seems to slough off on Lutz’s narrators, and they collect that language like the underside of a fingernail collects the skin and blood from an episode of brief, violent scratching—in sentences so attentively worked over, so operatically constructed, that the words themselves yearn to hold the excess energy of their erotic despair; to convert it into a charge, a current that shocks the reader. Lutz is known for his sentences, and for good reason. They are extravagant, weird, and intensely diagrammatic, the kind of sentences that would have made Gertrude Stein cry ... Lutz’s stories bog down in their desperate attempts to please, their sweating, strenuous verbal gymnastics, their reluctance to let moments of rapture vibrate or expand, so anxiously does the next sentence intrude with its 'fuck off’ lunge,' as Lutz describes his refusal to cushion the reader with 'pillowy transitions.' His stories are exhausting. I find it impossible to read more than two in a single sitting. My mind cramps with strain more often than it tingles with pleasure. Frequent water and bathroom breaks are needed. The imagined presence of the reader is, if not irrelevant to his performance of virtuosity, then certainly an afterthought ... The effect isn’t onanistic; one doesn’t get the sense that Lutz is getting off on his sentences any more than you are. Rather, there’s a shared feeling of blundering misery. Everyone is working too hard, no one is having as much fun as they think they should be having, and someone—probably one of Lutz’s narrators—is going to end up soft and shriveled and sobbing in the bath.
This transportive omnibus of new and previously collected work by Lutz highlights his precise and distinct method of storytelling. From the very first line Lutz holds the reader in a world where characters’ expectations must be vigilantly managed and lowered ... Drama comes from the devastating turn of phrase at which Lutz excels ... Lutz’s madcap genius burnishes unpleasant material into lasting gems.
A writer’s writer gets his due in a welcome gathering of short fictions from three decades ... Not much happens inside a Lutz story save for some neatly written sentences with, more often than not, some strange non sequitur at their heart ... Most of Lutz’s stories seem more prose poems than traditional yarns with beginnings, middles, and ends. His characters tend to be divorced or on the way to divorce ... Their time is invested in the ordinary ... Sometimes [Lutz] lets out a quiet joke...and sometimes he invites a question without answering it ... Sometimes he accomplishes all this in just a couple of paragraphs, more often just a few pages, though the book is a sturdy volume that proves his aside, 'A lot of toner has gone into all I have done.' ... A pleasure for fans of postmodern fiction.