Royal Young and author Scott McClanahan sit down to discuss the pitfalls of being “nice,” political correctness vs. true compassion, and the allure of car wrecks.
When I first saw Scott McClanahan he was sweating and shouting into a mic at the Franklin Park Reading Series in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. His reading became a staggering performance as he delivered his story in beats steady as Confederate marching drums.
McClanahan’s stories raise the spectre of the South: highways curving through woods, trailers, deer, rifles, cheap beer, and small towns where life is slower but burning with human fever. His almost casually related tales deal with violence and love, apathy, and our need for connection with an immediacy that is captivating and reflective.
McClanahan is the author of three previous books of short fiction: Stories, Stories II, and Stories V!. His latest collection, The Collected Works Vol. 1, is made up of stories about homelessness, meth addiction, death, dressing in drag, NASCAR, and mutilation, all written with a delirious combination of cynicism and warmth.
Royal Young In the first story in your collection, “The Last Time I Saw Randy Doogan,” charity gets someone in trouble. In real life, can being nice to people cause trouble?
Scott McClanahan I don’t give a shit about being nice. I’m just who I am.
Dale Peck on how New York ruins itself and his new novel, The Garden of Lost and Found.
I sit in Dale Peck’s downtown apartment on a rainy New York day, his massive black cats curling around my feet. I grew up in the streets around his building so Dale and I discuss the monumental, moneyed change we have seen in the past fifteen years. A longing for the vanished city of my childhood I feel increasingly embarrassed by. Yet, Peck’s latest novel The Garden of Lost and Found is a haunting homage to a Manhattan that once was.
The crumbling, seedy alleys and expansive, sunny lofts of Peck’s novel evoke a city the world fell in love with. The protagonist James is pulled to the city by his mother’s death and mysterious legacy, but also by the dangerous thrum and throb of the island itself. On lower Manhattan, in sight of the Twin Towers, James begins a tortured quest to dig into his painful past and uncover the secrets his mother inherited to him: a cluttered building with a crazy caretaker, a dark sexuality, and a key he wears in a chain round his neck.
The novel has an interesting history of its own. Peck began writing in in 1997, yet shifts in publishing and then the devastating effects of 9/11 changed the fate of the book. Fifteen years later, Peck and I wind up with the rain hitting his windows—his book party a few weeks away.
We talked about the forgotten New York we both remember, 9/11, AIDS, and how histories—both Peck’s own and that of his novel’s main character shape our lives, fill them with hate or love.
Royal Young There’s a line in the beginning of your book, “pointless memories molder . . . nostalgia and self-pity.” I feel like generally when people think about memories, they’re good. Let’s talk about the negative side of memories.
Dale Peck My mother died when I was three, so I have very few memories of her. Moving away from Long Island, we lost touch with her side of the family. My father had a very attenuated relationship with his own family. His childhood was so outrageously traumatic, that to him, his entire life was an effort of forgetting. Memory was just a terrible thing that brought up so much pain. My mother’s family also has a very strange, complicated relationship to its own past. My grandmother was just this fascinating character. I don’t even know if she’s alive anymore. When my mother was a teenager, her mother just disappeared. No one will really tell the whole story. My mother died when I was quite young and then my aunt Carol died I think the year after, which is when my grandmother showed up for the funeral.