Ben Spivey - 'You can’t count on things to stay how you expect,' a man’s lover tells him just after handing him a bag of her pubic hair
Ben Spivey, Flowing in the Gossamer Fold, Blue Square Press, 2010.“Part Jungian allegory, part surreal dreamscape, part Odyssean tramp, Ben Spivey’s Flowing in the Gossamer Fold is a romp through distorted time in a landscape carved by sudden oceans built from perpetual rain, where a cityscape has sidewalks littered with disappearing sages, and an edenic forest is graffitied with the father’s word. The sentences of Malcolm Blackburn’s midlife crisis are charged with the energy of a young man—the young man who penned this fucked up vision of pain and forgiveness, of what is ultimately the lesson of life: it’s beautiful, and it sucks.”–Jamie Iredell
“Ben Spivey’s alluringly melodial debut novel of a marriage gone asunder unreels itself with the indisputable logic of dreams and delivers, along its phantasmagoric and dazing way, emotional clarities that feel entirely new.”–Gary Lutz
“Reading like the troubled offspring of Claire Denis’s L’Intrus and the surreal ending of Jim Thompson’s Savage Night, Spivey’s Flowing in the Gossamer Fold creates a deliberate and satisfying confusion between the habitations of the skull, of the word, and of the world. A strange and satisfying debut.” – Brian Evenson
“Malcolm Blackburn (motivational speaker, estranged husband of a bird with orange pubic hair, and lover to a mannequin) has a voice that throttled me from the first page, while Ben Spivey–an extraordinarily talented and shockingly young new writer–demonstrates that his own voice is versatile, vivid, funny, and trenchant. I read the book in one eager sitting. Flowing in the Gossamer Fold is a bizarre and genuinely exciting debut.” – Nick Antosca“In mental maps made of out of milk and hair, Ben Spivey negotiates the slick space between our dirt and air. ‘You can’t count on things to stay how you expect,’ a man’s lover tells him just after handing him a bag of her pubic hair and turning into a kind of bird. It is warning meant for him and anybody expecting any less than magic in the lean, prismatic, calming barrage of Spivey’s sentences and rooms and hours, built on the all too rare commodity of heart.”–Blake Butler
"Flowing in the Gossamer Fold, simply, is about understanding an altered position when all known context falls away. Literally, a story of a professional motivational speaker attempting to harness his life after a divorce, Ben Spivey’s debut novel quickly and beautifully submerges the literal for an appropriately poetic read.
After about 20 pages of concrete scene-setting, we begin to experience a more language-focused breakdown of the protagonist’s deterioration, a style that continues throughout to the end of the book. Normally, such contrast, from suited professional speaker to emotional vagabond in such a short number of pages might feel forced. This makes Spivey’s ability to seamlessly drift from concrete to illusive imagery, while never completely leaving the reader to wander the text, all the more impressive. (Much of this smooth transition might be credited to subtly planted character traits. For example, we get the feeling that the protagonist’s married life wasn’t entirely traditional; as a parting reminder, the wife shaves, bags, and presents her dyed pubic hair).
Much of the novel is spent with the protagonist after his divorce, where he has isolated himself in a will-bestowed cabin, having only coffee and eggs to sustain him. The metaphorical implications of such a setup, Spivey capitalizes upon succinctly: “I’m fixing holes. I’m making it better. I can leave whenever I want”. At times, the author extends his before-and-after comparisons:
“Morning dew rested on the tops of the parked cars lining the streets. The homes I passed, old and rustic next to modern imitations, the duality of the new next to the old, or better yet the original next to the imitator, I thought about those things: being and not being, consciousness, and unconsciousness, life and death”.Flowing in the Gossamer Fold might best be categorized as “Emo Lit,” having all of the melodrama of Emo music, without ever dulling the audience’s senses to the consistent and powerful impact of the text. Take the following passage as testament, one that wears its emotion on its sleeve, so to speak, yet never feels false:
“I thought about wanting to sleep in a place so dark, about having a drink with my father. Wanting to sink farther into the mine. I turned off the light, and the light sucked from my eyes like blowing wind, like butterflies around the street lamp”. - Caleb J. Ross
"What's your background? When did you start writing?- My mother birthed me in Decatur. I have a BA in journalism from Georgia State University. I decided to pursue journalism for a couple of reasons, one reason was the dead author Stephen Crane. One of my favorite short stories is "The Open Boat," which Crane wrote— I was fascinated with how Crane fictionalized reality. I wanted to learn that skill. It seems that a lot of writers are also journalists, however informal, or formal. I've lived in Georgia all of my life. But I don't consider myself a 'Southern boy' or whatever. Atlanta is a little haven to those wicked things. I started writing at a young age. I started to create at a young age. The idea of creation has been very important to me for as long as I can remember. As a child I read a lot of fantasy novels, played a lot of video games, mostly role playing games. Lord of the Rings, D & D, Final Fantasy, Zelda, very satisfying replacement for reality.
I needed that satisfaction of creation. I built great castles out of Legos for many years. I drew comics, as a boy, dreamed dreams, etcetera. I was maybe 13 or 14 years old when I wrote a story about a place of solitude— I think that was the first time that I had a simple taste of my voice. Your voice develops, changes, extends, fluctuates, but when you find it, you know it. When I found my voice it felt like the first time I'd seen the horizon over the ocean, the often lyrical. To me, being a writer or an artist is finding a missing piece to a puzzle, however complicated that may be. Sure I want to be appreciated, or respected, but making a story or a painting or a book object and sharing that with people is something that's ultimately selfish. It's also love, need, brutality. Too understand better, too be understood. All of that is the why.
How long have you been working on this novel?- The novel started as a short story. I started to write the first piece or draft at the end of 2008. I believe it was December, it was cold. The draft was a little over 8,000 words, which is short, less than half of the finished novel. I submitted that story which was called "The Diner" to Adam Robinson at Publishing Genius Press. He mailed me a really nice rejection letter about how he didn't feel that the story was finished but that the sentences were pristine, that got me thinking about expansion, and I expanded the story's language and scope. The novel was torn apart and rebuilt at least 50 times over the course of about a year. I wrote the novel in segments. I had an overall feeling that I wanted to instill in the reader, that I wanted to share and explore. Several parts of the novel were written in Moleskine journals while I road Marta, or sat in class, or at red-lights, work, wherever— it began to bleed from me. The sentences or moments would hit me at some of the most inconvenient times. While driving I would jot a word or two on my hand or on paper. One time I got home with an entire paragraph written down my arm and hand, I kept paper around after that, or took notes on my phone. I was in deep, but it was not consistent inspiration or progression. It was early mornings, every morning, coffee, sometimes just starring at the computer screen. The quiet moments were the hardest moments.
Making Malcolm a motivational speaker wasn't my first choice for him. He was first a miner and for people who read the novel they'll see how that initial choice played into the story. I wanted to write a surreal novel, but I wanted the story to drift into that dreamy place in a believable way. A motivational speaker offered me some unique options toward that descent, namely I could have Malcolm interact with groups of people.
The sentences are really notable in Flowing in the Gossamer Fold. Do you shape these sentences through a series of edits or is this more of a "natural" rhythm?- I approach sentences very aware and conscious of sound—the pace of each sentence is important, no matter how ambient, subtle, deep, or forward it is, the sentence should be purposeful and lasting. When I began to edit the sentences I often replaced words, choosing a word that had a better meaning or a word that made better sense because when I was drafting I was paying less attention to the word and more attention to the rhythm which required attention on the back end. Editing is where I like to be, that is where I'm most comfortable, shifting the sentences, moving commas, adding indentions. So the sentences are both natural and shaped through many edits, it's a process.
Do you feel like any books in particular had an influence on your novel?- Yes, many. But not only books, some movies, too. There are probably too many to name but some that come to mind are EVER by Blake Butler, Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami, The Fall by Albert Camus, and Log of the S.S The Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford, all had some sort of influence. Holy Mountain by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Lost Highway by David Lynch also inspired me. There really are so many things, influences. A primary influence over me for many years has been Hideaki Anno's Neon Genesis Evangelion, which I experienced at a young, impressionable age—identifying with the symbolism of that series.
What are you reading lately? Anything that you'd recommend?
- I've been reading Child of God by Cormac McCarthy, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami, and Ugly Man: stories by Dennis Cooper. Some other books I've recently enjoyed are Scary, No Scary by Zachary Schomburg, Everything here is the best thing ever by Justin Taylor, The Failure Six by Shane Jones, and Good, Brother by Peter Markus. I could recommend a list, but one book that I'm consistently inspired by is Stories in the Worst Way by Gary Lutz." - Interview with Wyatt Williams
Black God by Ben Spivey, Blue Square Pess, 2012.
“Ben Spivey’s Black God is a surreal dreamscape of a book. To borrow from the book itself, “There’s something black in that place like it was untouched by God himself… Or herself.” At its claustrophobic core, this book is a love story about time and memory, fear and death. At its dreamlike fringes, it is a book that might have been written by the son of Kafka and Braque. Like our best books, it is a love story in love with its own death.” – Peter Markus
“In Black God there is a dream architecture that draws the aging narrator Cooper from his dying wife like a moth to its hard and gateless outer shell. With him we explore the received forms of daily life mingling with fluctuating dreams of the interior of eternity. Here, Spivey accomplishes the rare feat of investing Cooper’s efforts with resonance though his motives obscure even to himself and the theater in which he operates is a dreamscape of mechanical islands, a wife retreating into silhouettes, and beaches of washed up clocks: ‘I looked up and could see where I fell from—a house hanging in the sky like a new moon—the actual moon cast shadow on the home giving it celestial shape. I could even see the stairs I must have tumbled from hanging there like a limp wrist.’ This is a visionary book, a genuine terror and awe.” – Joe Hall