Samuel Ligon’s DRIFT AND SWERVE
I’ve been reading this book slowly for the past few weeks now, taking my time with each story in the collection, as the scope here is just ridiculous: I’ve really never seen an author who can speak in so many different modes and voices, all while sounding from the same pen, and of a unified and extremely singular vision.
I remember the first thing of Sam’s I ever read, ‘American League’ which appeared in an issue of Sleepingfish, and appears now in the collection: a run-on sentence which somehow encapsulates a Beat-meets-Pynchonesque vision of American in less than 3 pages, ending with the phrase ‘titty milk, suckling.’ I think I read that piece three times in a row in magazine form, and another three when coming to it in the collection.
But Ligon is by no means ‘limited’ to that one strain that got me hooked before. Even in the first 4 stories of this collection, Ligon throws one new pitch after another, such as the titular track, which follows a family on the highway watching a drunk driver in extremely stripped, Denis Johnson but sleeker style. And he throws the supremely visioned second-person narrative-but-wild-eyed, ‘Animal Hater,’ which contains this gem of a sentence:
“You run the point of the blade against the bottom of one foot, getting the feel for it, then up her calf and along the knee, over her thigh to her groin, and gently up around her belly button and under a breast, scraping nipple with the flat of the blade, up and down her neck, the knife standing, turning in a tiny point against her throat, then back down and over her topography.”
With such phrasings and images meshed into Ligon’s fine forms, which seem so smooth at times you almost forget you are holding paper: it’s impossible to not want to keep reading slower and slower, figuring out from sentence to sentence how Ligon both makes it look so easy and so hard at the same time.
With so much cataloging and genre-naming going on in the way of words these days, it’s nice to see a collection that so finely disrupts your expectations in a way that you literally can’t know what’s coming, and yet delivered with such confidence and poise and seeming disregard for its own influences that its as if the author himself is there watching you read, watching your eyes.
Sam Ligon’s ‘Drift and Swerve’ is refreshing not only for its variety of style and vision, but for its singularity and its heart. Perhaps the heart of this: the heart made so very clear from story to story even in the midst of such technical prowess and unwillingness to fall in expectation. This one has it all.
BONUS: Check out Robert Lopez’s interview with Sam at Word Riot.
+ Check out an excerpt from the title story at Random House’s O. Henry Prize stories spotlight.