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.
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.
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.