Greg Gerke - Through the manic to the gothic, absurdist romance to mock epic parody, Rashomon-effect reverie to tavern patron’s tall tale
"In this group of flash fiction and short stories Greg Gerke looks at the world with a sometimes absurd, sometimes tragic, but entirely compassionate eye. Two cars crash but the drivers turn out to be a cyclist who witnessed the accident, a son is visited by his dead father, a single Rainier cherry is used as a football in a scrimmage between potheads and in the hilarious title story a 1000-pound moth is nearing the end of his days."
"Full of twists and turns, Greg Gerke’s debut collection is more powerful than fun; each character has flavor, the situations stick, the work is unique. There’s Something Wrong with Sven, but this book is right on." —Kim Chinquee
"With an ever-roving eye for the peculiar episodic at home and abroad, Greg Gerke lets plenty of little thrills bound out from these stories—though don’t look past the more tender moments in his carnivalesque travels. They are just as humorous as they are oddly endearing." —Forrest Roth
"In There’s Something Wrong With Sven, Greg Gerke delivers dozens of short-shorts, each an absurdist world full of compassion and ambition, populated by surprisingly earnest characters who cannot help but enchant us as they pursue goals that are simultaneously fleeting and eternal. These stories contain big hearts and big laughter, as well as just enough of the sad and the weird to be both believable and memorable." —Matt Bell
"With all the hyper-sexed characters and situations in There’s Something Wrong with Sven, Greg Gerke’s story collection might just as well be called In Flagrante Delicto. In “Jolt and La Petite Mort,” Jake, a preteen, after having an inappropriate talk with his mother, has sex with one of his mother’s friends, then gushes: “It was sex, wondrous sex. On and on. Sex, Oh God, and Goddess. Sex. Sex. Sex.” In “Batter Up,” a right fielder, after hearing about the third baseman’s sex with his wife, “wrestles his bat away from the bat boy, clubs the third baseman on the head, jumps into the stands” and has sex with the “woman on top of the dugout.” Ned, in “Why We Love the Germans,” is caught “sucking at Candace’s small, pert nipples.” A poor tour guide in “This Is Where We Keep Vivaldi’s Body” fields questions about his wife’s former career as a porn star and about the disjointedness that enables him to suck himself off.
Characters with strange names like Peter the Pirate, Mother Goose, Tiramasu, Deuce Billygoat, and Pawdy show up in Gerke’s stories, as does a cancer-ridden thousand-pound moth named Sven. Saint James makes a post-grave appearance, as does Vivaldi, albeit as a well-dressed, preserved, and—most importantly—silent corpse. There’s Something Wrong with Sven combines imaginative leaps worthy of Italo Calvino and Kurt Vonnegut with tragicomic irreverence of the George Saunders variety.
And that’s just the stories in “Bacchanalian,” the first of Sven’s three sections. In the second, “Saturnine,” Gerke expands his range and widens his scope—violence, dark dreams, fatigue, restlessness, betrayal, and death suffuse these stories. It’s as if they, too, lived in the “house of jaundiced curtains” from one of the stories here. In “Now Come the Days,” a disaffected character asks a fish, “But what is your psychology of death? Your final wishes? Maybe you would prefer to be alone at the end. To swim behind some riverstone, lie down and close your eyes. Without a dirge, without any myth or anecdotes to remember you by.”
Sex does rear its hard head again in “Speak and Sweat,” in which Nick can’t believe “the great firm asses of women he sees at the short rock climbing wall in the local gym” and considers “how he’d love to be smothered by one.” But after being reported for groping the receptionist, he’s put to death in the gym’s basement, “a bungee cord squeezing his windpipe shut.” As a character says about himself in “Dreams of You: Chapter Eleven,” these stories will “only make love when it is dark.”
The moods in the final section change unexpectedly, often jarringly, thus earning its title: “Mercurial.” In “Bach’s Little Secret,” the famed composer tells a young organist that his diet is the reason for prolific and consistent creativity. He elaborates:
“Cut out the beef and sauerkraut. Eat more miso soup. Concentrate on green and yellow vegetables. For snacks I recommend fresh carrot juice and gluten-free stollen.”A more mundane story concludes with a man going to sleep and waking to find that decades have passed, his parents are long dead, and “everything else—all matters of love, hate, and the quiet rituals of life—remained the same.” “Apples, Epees and Dracula” abruptly ends with the hero suffering from a “mortal wound to his belly.”
Like the house in “Did You Recognize Him?” these stories are “awash in an otherworldliness.” Gerke gets a lot right in There’s Something Wrong with Sven—like navigating through absurd detours, like making simple things strange, like having estranged people find their missing piece or start another puzzle, like getting into it, man, you know, like a… like a sex machine… Like inviting all kinds of misfits, nitwits, and twits to the party, like finding the tragic in the comic and vice-versa. Like dreaming out loud." - John Madera
"In his 1987 essay "The New Sentence" poet-critic Ron Silliman argued for new kind of writing that would displace traditional narrative with a "dematerialized" prose based on the juxtaposition of sentences (or "parataxis") without a preordained hierarchy of meaning.
Outside of academia, this dematerialized writing style has found its expression in the development of "flash fiction" as a popular literary subgenre. While not all flash fiction has the non sequitur quality of surrealism and literary pastiche, the extreme compression of the form tends to favor broad gestures over subtle ones, and a predisposition toward hyperbole and incongruous juxtaposition.
In Buffalo-based fiction writer Greg Gerke's debut collection There's Something Wrong With Sven, flash fiction illuminates some of the same eccentricites of small town, middle American experience that Sherwood Anderson explored in his classic early 20th century story collections Winesburg, Ohio (1919) and Triumph of the Egg (1921). Like Anderson, Gerke reveals the core of strangeness underlying familiar societal conventions as grotesque, and depicts his 21st century "grotesques" as intimately familiar.
Packing 54 "flash" narratives into a scant 144 pages, Gerke - a Wisconsin native by way of the University of Oregon--takes readers on a picaresque gambol through many of the leading tropes of contemporary American storytelling from the manic to the gothic, absurdist romance to mock epic parody, Rashomon-effect reverie to tavern patron's tall tale.
"I invite you to live in my world, my life, my superconductor under my short brown hair. Words scare me more than switchblades or machetes, " he writes in "Consider the Percocet," a monologue that elevates stream of consciousness to a kind of delirious over sharing. Like many of the fictions in this collection, its imaginative limits are more closely constrained the rules of grammar and linguistic construction than the norms of human behavior or the laws of causality and the physical universe.
In an attempt at thematic organization, the collection is divided into three sections: "Bacchanalian," "Saturnine," and "Mercurial," but the fictions that comprise each section do not necessarily adhere to this neo-classical motif. Instead, the "Bacchanalian" narratives have a droll, whimsical quality typified by the title story, a Paul Bunyanesque tall tale in which "Sven" is a 1,000 pound pet moth.
"Saturnine," the middle section, is less self consciously ironic, especially in "Did you Recognize Him?," a childhood reminiscence of such powerful clarity and heartfelt tenderness that it suggests Gerke has an untapped gift for memoir. "Mercurial," the concluding section, contains the longest and arguably the most traditionally structured stories of the collection.
Gerke, who co-programs the Exhibit X Fiction and Prose Reading Series and leads Just Buffalo Literary Center's Short Story Discussion Group, is an ambitious young writer whose talent for Tristram Shandy like digression may not best be served by the limitations of the flash fiction form. He is currently at work on a first novel set in Brooklyn." - R.D. Pohl
Interview at Metazen blog
Interview at HTMLGIANT
Greg Gerke, My Brooklyn Writer Friend, Queen’s Ferry Press, 2015.
“These swift, swervy, nervous fictions—as often as not about writers in antic crisis with the language, lovers in trouble with their loves—are heartachingly hilarious and stocked from margin to margin with agony-born brilliances fresh and revitalizing. Greg Gerke’s endearingly self-questioning narrators worry their doubts into a make-do grace that leaves a reader sweetened too.”—Gary Lutz,
“Greg Gerke writes like an anthropologist of love, or like a Brooklyn-based Sigmund Freud, walking down a Mobius boulevard, finding the truth as it flowers in the cracks of the sidewalk. Honest, deadpan, personal and smart, these stories conspire, like a dream, to create a world both uncanny and familiar, delirious and quotidian, funny and sad and completely mesmerizing.”—John Haskell
“Greg Gerke is a short-form wizard; dark, funny, and seriously sly. His book will deliver you to strange new thought and feeling.”—Sam Lipsyte
"A Duchampian travelogue about the nature of how we read and construct stories, My Brooklyn Writer Friend is as compelling as it is entertaining. As quickly as the writers in the book build the scaffolding of their ideas, others endeavor to shift the architecture. The result is a series of brilliant roller-coaster rides that demand to be revisited many times over."
—Susan Daitch, author of Paper Conspiracies
"If you put Lydia Davis, Etgar Keret, and Philip
Roth’s Portnoy in a blender you might get Greg Gerke’s quirkily neurotic, hilariously honest voice in My Brooklyn Writer Friend. All the writing about writing probably won’t play in Peoria, but luckily he lives in Brooklyn, believes in truth in advertising and his very short stories are weird and wildly engaging."—Susan Shapiro, author of Lighting Up and What’s Never Said
"How is it that Greg Gerke’s short fiction collection makes dislocation, miscommunication, and the anxious knots of the mind seem absolutely worthwhile and even kind of fun? Friends, sort-of-friends, lovers and sort-of-lovers tangle with the loneliness of being apart/together. Get prepared for a writer who wonderfully navigates bumbling, ordinary life with smart, sharp writing and a big dose of compassion."Read an interview with Greg at Electric Literature.
La Naissance of My Brooklyn Writer Friend
At Fanzine a short essay, “Envy, the Unsuccessful Writer’s Friend”
At MUBI, Mister Fincher and Monsieur Dreyer, cinematic despair and rapture
At Medium/Human Parts, a piece on Internet Dating
At MUBI, On Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy
At MUBI, four new pieces: Mr. Turner, Boyhood, and Criticism, Eric Rohmer’s A Winter’s Tale, Carl Dreyer’s Gertrud on its 50th Anniversary, and a look at French director Jean Gremillion
Short story “Such a Sweet Meat” is in The Collagist
A review of Eric Rohmer: Interviews is in the Summer Issue of Film Quarterly
An essay on Paul Thomas Anderson, envy, and space in film at the LA Review of Books
“Tell Her She Has Strong Legs” – a story at Numero CinqOn Louise Gluck – The Millions