April 23rd, 2009 / 1:48 pm
Author Spotlight

Influences 4: Shya Scanlon


Here is the fourth response to my influences post. The respondent is my friend Shya Scanlon. Read “The Fish” on Spork.


1) Pick one of the pieces you chose and describe the thing about it that seems particularly innovative about it.

2) Tell me what changed about your writing because of that innovation.

Answers after the jump:

1) When I encountered Tom Drury, I was at the tail end of my program at Brown—a program known for its emphasis on innovative texts. I was no longer in workshop (the final semester is dedicated to thesis completion), and enjoying the first non-required reading I’d had in a while. Perhaps it’s my arch attitude, but though what I’d turned in for my application had been non-narrative, language-based, nearly non-categorical work (soon to be published, in fact, as a collection of “poetry” by Noemi Press), the moment I got into the program I started becoming more interested in character-based narrative. Jump a 1.5 years, and what I found in Drury was truly character-based fiction that delighted me at nearly every turn, with language supple and canny and rich, but which did not force my attention to it, instead letting me ride an edge of appreciation for the prose without pulling me from my suspension of disbelief. Without, in other words, reminding continually about Drury the author. I suppose this is “innovative” in the sense that I don’t know how he does it, and it’s extremely difficult to do. But the result, the experience of reading, isn’t
what I associate with innovative fiction.

2) Discovering Drury effected my writing only indirectly, I’d say, in that I didn’t ape elements of his style (such as it is—something difficult to pin down, really). However, it did give me courage to explore a voice—a voice of my own—I hadn’t permitted myself to use before, and to bring in my own sense of humor. The result was an added dynamism of tone to my work, which was before maybe a bit too self-conscious to be so flexible.

A little bit from Drury’s story, “In Our State,” published in an issue of Harper’s in 1988.

Last weekend, while trying only to buy a kite, Derrick ran over a woman in Hurley and broke both her femurs.

The steering went out on him. This is what he says, and we have no other accounts to go by.

The femur is the thighbone—one of the thickest human bones. Below the knee we’ve got the tibia in front and the fibula as supporting backup, but, in the thigh, the femur goes it alone.

Turning to the dictionary to study the havoc Derrick put on this particualr woman, and to get a sense of the leg structure in general, I learn that ancient people carved animal tibiae into flutes.

Also I note that “tickety-boo” is British slang for “fine, excellent, in working order, etc.”

Derrick is free on his own recognizance. In his view the situation is far from working order.

That’s some pretty good stuff right there. The story is less than two pages, and continues in that strange, wide-ranging, attention-deficit disorder narrative movement. Can’t stay still. Won’t stay still. But every little piece somehow falls into place—a well-made collage.

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One Comment

  1. Shya Scanlon » Blog Archive » Tom Drury

      […] and excellent writer Matthew Simmons posted something about my interest in Tom Drury over at HTMLGIANT today. Influences […]