old. Distant. Dreamlike.
These are words that come to mind when I think of How Did You Sleep?
Paul Glennon takes odd premises and writes entire stories around them, doing his best to make the narratives believable and captivating. I think they are, for the most part, well-crafted. Unfortunately, I often found myself hoping for an ending sooner than later.
It is difficult to write stories about wives turned to wood and men made of metal. How do you talk of metamorphosis and imaginary literatures? Glennon has done an admirable job of trying to find ways to do so.
When I read these stories I couldn't help comparing them to Kafka. There is a dark desperation to many of the tales that conjur the life or death struggles of characters like Joseph K. and Gregor Samsa. These kind of comparisons are impossible to live up to, and Glennon buckles and breaks under the literary weight my reading mind placed him under. He is no Kafka, and I should not compare a first collection (this is, after all, Glennon's first published book) to such a writer.
How do we gauge an author's debut work? We expect that it escapes its antescendents, that the author has consumed literature, but has not become that literature. In other words, we want authors to escape the anxiety of influence and to create something that is both rich and deep, but also strikingly original. This is a tremendous burden, and Glennon works with precision and determination to escape it.
After getting over my initial Kafka-comparison irritation, I began comparing Glennon to another master of these sorts of stories - British writer Will Self. Again, Glennon pales in comparison. Again, this comparison is entirely unfair.
So I judge these works against themselves.
They are consistent in their approach and execution. Glennon pays particular attention to maintaining the strange realities he's constructed. These are, indeed, new worlds. They are not worlds I want to spend too long in. They are sluggish places where time has disappeared and a listlessness descends.
My greatest irritation with this collection was the 'story' entitled "An Anthology of Nestorian Literature", complete with table of contents and index. What was the function of this inclusion? Was it an attempt at poking fun at how anthologies are put together? Was it a literary exercise at creating a possible history? It was mildly amusing, but for the most part left me bored and annoyed.
I feel my words are too harsh towards his bold attempt at stomping out new literary turf. I can say I am interested to see what new universes Glennon will think up next. He has a strong mind for these kinds of stories, and let us hope he continues to develop his ideas.
published by porcupine's quill