Matthew Kirkpatrick - Formally engaged and innovative, the pieces employ erasure, collage, illustration, false glossaries, biographies, instructions, false histories, actual histories, diagrams and photographs in the service of depicting characters with emotional intensity. Surreal humor and lyrical, often beautiful language



Matthew Kirkpatrick, Light without Heat: Stories, Fiction Collective 2, 2012.


Read it at Google Books

"Matthew Kirkpatrick’s debut, Light without Heat, is an inventive, surprising collection of short stories full of odd, marginal characters rendered with surreal humor and lyrical, often beautiful language.
Formally playful, these stories take the shape of biographies, instructions, glossaries, and diagrams, all ultimately in the service of depicting characters with emotional intensity.
Stories in the collection explore the flawed nature of memory, workplace malaise, the isolation of home, and the last throes of ending love. No two stories in Light without Heat are the same, yet all of them work toward sharing human experience in new, innovative ways."

“Matthew Kirkpatrick loves words and images and the crazy chemistry between them. Reading Light without Heat is like watching a circus act where humans fling themselves gorgeously from increasingly fantastic heights: you think uh-oh and wowee and yes yes yes.”—Noy Holland

“Matthew Kirkpatrick’s new book is outstanding. The stories in Light without Heat are taut, formally inventive forays into the soft, fragile core of families. Kirkpatrick’s language is sharp and severe, but beneath the disciplined voice is a writer looking to reveal the most difficult feelings. An extraordinary debut by an ambitious new writer.”—Ben Marcus

"Matthew Kirkpatrick’s debut, Light without Heat, is a diverse and exciting collection of fiction. Formally engaged and innovative, the pieces employ erasure, collage, illustration, false glossaries, false histories, actual histories, and photographs. Yet, the works are held together by a consistent focus on humanity, on emotion, on striking images and poetic prose. Here the innovations are not simply out of indulgence or idle experimentation, but in the pursuit of arriving at the strongest method of portraying a particular character, emotion, or story, and in the process of comprehending our common humanity.
In “Pineal Gland,” Kirkpatrick portrays character through an illustration of a brain, labeled with different aspects of personality and memory. This form seems like an exercise in the diminishment of the author’s authority in favor of the reader. For the reader is compelled to find an order in these notations, to understand if the “obsession with Styx” arrived prior to the “obsession with competitive cooking programs.” And where to place those darker obsessions of “arson,” and those obsessions acted upon, “damaged in fire”? Indeed, in prizing no one moment or interest above another, Kirkpatrick seems to further comment on the artificial representation of character within a traditional narrative, the development of a personality through conflict and epiphany, in favor of a total vision, where each of us are made up equally of our interests and hobbies as well as our obsessions, our misdeeds.
A later piece, “Pastoral,” is built from the repetitions of phrases and paragraphs, before shifting into the willful obliteration of these repetitions, erasing images, phrases, contexts. For instance, the reoccurring paragraph:
A raptor huddles in its cage hoisted high above and eats its own long frozen eggs cracking each shell with beak tip, sucking the thick, cold yoke. One it swallows whole and one rolls from the nest and falls through the cage wires and falls through trees and wires, falling, shattering on the hard ground. Each day the raptor lays new eggs and eats them.

is born anew, poetic and mysterious, through erasure into:

hoisted             and eats its own              cracking,
sucking   .         One it swallows        and         wires,
falling, shattering on                eats them.

The effect, which is used throughout the collection, is impressive. In pushing the possibilities of narrative, Kirkpatrick returns fiction to something almost before “the word”: to sound, to image, to the contrast of white space and the black of ink, dissolving his writing until it becomes a beauty beyond sense, beyond story.
While not as obviously engaged with formal innovation as many of the other works, the exceptional “Throw Him in the Water” is also engaged with ideas of what happens when familiar elements are removed. In a mostly straightforward narrative we learn about a man who is Mayor of a town that is no longer a town, a place abandoned by many of its inhabitants for the coal fires raging beneath the earth. This strange sad world emerges as do many of the other pieces: through the emphasis Kirkpatrick places on his prose, on detailing the “smoke [rising] out of fissures in the playground. The heat burning their feet through the bottom of their shoes” and the “house across the street… ablaze, fire jumping out of the broken windows…. the walls blue and orange with the heat.” It is a world dealt into another century, cut off from civilization, forced to grow and raise and kill their food. We learn of the deluded men who swell with self importance and the wives who long to be freed of their husbands:
The other dead chickens in the coop screech like they know what’s happening and she starts to walk back up the hill with the bloody ax in one hand and headless chicken in the other on the way to see her husband in the pool. She stops and considers what she might do with the ax and how, without the Mayor, things would be simpler. There are no police here, no neighbors. She could do it, gather the children, and walk right out of town and nobody would ever know. He’d float face down dead in the pool water and they’d be free.
It is the story of what ultimately motivates the human spirit, the selfishness and the fear, the ambition and ego, the tenuous hold on morality, love, and family, in a world after our society, our culture, has been slowly reduced to nothing.
The final work of the collection, “Some Kirkpatricks,” similarly investigates our commonality in the face of approaching nothingness. A tour de force of diseases, historical outbreaks, plagues, epidemics, and other such mass deaths, statistics, photographs, and narratives, “Some Kirkpatricks” fuses most early formal elements in an exhilarating punctuation. Here are truncated narratives of various people named Kirkpatrick through the ages, photos of their tombstones, listings of their birth dates and death dates, the ways they lived, the ways they died, until the repetition becomes numbing, or, as we are finally told, “Kirkpatrick dies. Kirkpatrick is born. Kirkpatrick dies.” The effect of all of these Kirkpatricks, born and dead and gone to dust, is each of them comes to feel as anonymous and unknowable as the thousands of dead the piece elsewhere associates with various outbreaks and disasters. “Kirkpatrick could not remember being born,” we are told, “and will not remember dying, the last deep breath, the last short shrill inhalation, unsatisfied, wanting just one more, the lack of light or darkness.” No matter how one moves around in life, the conclusion is ultimate and it is inevitable for all our contingences and plans otherwise, and someday soon that which we are survived by will similarly cease, and finally, each will become “a name in stone eroding and bone.”
Light without Heat is, at once, a collection that is relentlessly engaged with the possibilities of form and language, while also deeply invested in matters of universal importance: of love, of purpose, of life, of death. As such, even those readers who are not typically interested in innovative and experimental fiction will likely find much of interest in Mr. Kirkpatrick’s marvelous debut." - Robert Kloss

"The thrill of reading Matt Kirkpatrick’s debut collection, Light Without Heat is like the thrill of stepping into a carefully curated vintage store: each exquisite story has a talismanic magic unto itself, and a unique literary lineage. For example, the executives of a telecommunication company in “The AuralSec Story, a Corporate History, Chapter 7: Our Dependable Grampy,” who assure themselves, “Well, at least nobody young is going to die from what we do” have the fatalistic humor of a George Saunders character who’s mired in an insufferably corporate universe. Or consider the narrator in “The Board Game Monopoly,” whose thoughts gyrate around his destitute neighbors (lesbian heroin addicts, a little girl who steals his cigarettes, a mythomaniac neighbor who lies about “arm cancer”), whose threatening humor belies a deeper melancholy, not dissimilarly to Denis Johnson’s character, “Fuckhead.” Or consider “Glossary,” Kirkpatrick’s impossible encyclopedia whose absurdist linguistic humor is reminiscent of Ben Marcus’s Notable American Women:
 Akron, OH: On June 12, 1978, the “City of Angels” burned to the reduction of artificial application of water to the soil.
Akron, OH: Forty miles east of Akron, OH, in a forest on a hill.
Akureyri: Show me cold water flowing and
Alan Alda: Badly burned on June 1, 1980, while freebasing cocaine.
Alan Alda: A sinkhole opens in a valley to one black cavern glistening. Cold black water glistens.
Kirkpatrick can clearly pen a story that rivals the most anthologized of our short story writers, but also in his collection are heretofore unimaginable forms, stories that mirror the moment when you arrive late to a Surrealist tea party, and you’re not entirely sure which parlor game is being played. Ecstatic linguistic pyrotechnics, multi-dimensional constellations: a character sketch written as a diagram of the pineal gland, erasures that leave the text cratered, an impossible encyclopedia, “basements with or without dens.”
Though Light Without Heat is an incredibly eclectic collection, with more bizarre forms than the DMV, cohesive threads run throughout these nineteen stories (though these threads are more like strands of mutant DNA, birthing beautiful little monsters): celestial imagery, the rotting past, bitched-from-the-start families, shrapnel-scapes. Particularly, though, I’m interested in Kirkpatrick’s obsession with holes—in his stories, ground becomes a tenuous terrain, threatening to collapse into some darker, subterranean life. Often, this hazard of distending holes is quite literal: in “Throw Him in the Water,” families, afraid of a fissure splitting the ground beneath them, have severed all contact with other families, and each patriarch becomes an autonomous Mayor. In “Different Distances,” a father falls down [metaphorical] wells, digs holes in the backyard using a metal detector, paints black holes, opens manhole covers and longs for darkness. “Crystal Castles” takes the form of holes, bifurcating into a long, two-columned text, with one column retelling the story of Baby Jessica who fell down the well, and the other chronicling the Atari-playing, Creeley-plagiarizing mole she meets there.
In the final story of the collection, “Some Kirkpatricks,” a vignette of images of tombstones with the name Kirkpatrick and imagined obituaries behind these deaths, the reader begins to meditate upon the subterranean histories over which one walks, the sinewy narratives lurking beneath the surface. Each gravestone acts an aperture to an impossibly irrecoverable story.
While the idea of holes pockmarks Kirkpatrick’s moonscape collection, the stories seem to also be conceptually interested in language as a type of hole—not only Kirkpatrick’s language specifically, but as language as having intrinsically sub-terrestrial properties. For example, in “Pennsylvania,” a story composed of a constellation of objects, each word is not merely representative of that object, but a vertiginous plummet beyond the textual substrate and into the domestic Pennsylvanian landscape. In My Life, Lyn Heijinian writes, “But a word is a bottomless pit. It became magically pregnant and one day split open, giving birth to a stone egg, about as big as a football.” In Light Without Heat, the reader falls into the wrenching, blackhole of language.
For Kirkpatrick, words seem to act as apertures, holes through which light travels. In “Light Without,” about an orderly who switches babies at the hospital where he works, and a woman who shoplifts magazines from 7-Eleven, photoshopping her face into the pictures, and returns them, cosmic light sears throughout the story. “A photograph,” Kirkpatrick writes, “is light.” Throughout, we fall through a beautiful chiaroscuro of darkness and illumination; grounding and freefall; loneliness and another’s fingertips" - Tasha Matsumoto

Our memories fail. They fail by design. Neuroscientist Karim Nader believes that it may not be possible for us to call something back in our minds without physically transforming our recollection of it, each time we recall it. In Matthew Kirkpatrick's debut short-story collection, Light Without Heat, Kirkpatrick explores the shortcomings of memory. He examines the liminal space between the insufficiency of language and our human need to keep on working to sum up the ineffable in words.
"Different Distances," the collection's first story, starts with the conception of the protagonist, described in terse, lyrical, almost impressionistic sentences:
Conceived in a canopy bed in the Waldorf overlooking the wet black street along Central Park at dawn Sunday morning after an exhibition of my father's artwork at the Grace Gallery downtown. Warhol was there. Everything sold. Even the charcoal sketches tucked in Dad's black portfolio. Fabulous. Cocaine piled on silver trays and cases of Dom and Mylar pillow balloons. Best night of their lives.
While the life of the protagonist of "Different Distances" is recalled in meticulous detail, the reader quickly sees that multiple versions of events are presented--what's more, accounts of things contradict each other. The protagonist is:
Born in the backseat of [his] father's Buick.
In the backseat of a taxi stuck in rush hour traffic. Stuck behind an accident. In two feet of snow.
In the backseat of a NJ Transit bus stuck in the Holland Tunnel, three weeks too soon.
In the backseat of [his] father's Merc. Olds. Cutlass.
As vivid as the memories seem to be, they are also incongruous, full of holes. Even the sentences themselves have gaps in them. The sentences often lack subjects or objects. Sentences end abruptly. Sentences may not be contained by punctuation. Still, the protagonist must strive to gather the fragments of what he remembers, and his struggle redeems him;  at the end of the story, the protagonist joins his parents in a moment of complicated joy, as they "cradle thick glass shards... Gather the pieces and cut [their] fingers, laughing."
"Crystal Castles" retells the famous 1987 rescue of baby Jessica McClure from her near-fatal plunge into a well in Midland, Texas. The story's central characters are Baby Jessica and a mole living inside the well. Both suffer from amnesia: Baby Jessica has recently had an electric shock damage her memory, and the mole wakes up every morning having forgotten what happened the day before. When Baby Jessica falls down the well, she meets the mole, and the two new friends spend "forty hours…creweling and cooking and eating and forgetting and playing Crystal Castles together" before Baby Jessica is pulled out of the well by rescuers. In the end, neither mole nor child remembers the encounter. The story cuts off mid-sentence, with a gap of white space: "the Mole will look up, light shining into the well, and imagine for a moment the glimpse of". The story is divided into two columns of text; the first column gives Baby Jessica's point of view and the second column has the mole's point of view. Like Nicholas Branch in DeLillo's Libra, the reader of "Crystal Castles" has to work to put together a cohesive narrative using fragments of text from unreliable sources, a narrative that is itself set against a historical account. The story's intertextuality, its plurality of truths, is reminiscent of what Linda Hutcheon calls "historiographic metafiction," fiction that self-consciously questions the border between history and fiction. In "Crystal Castles," history, like memory, is an indistinct space, dependent on narrative for meaning.
Like many innovative fiction writers working from where Sterne and Diderot left off, Kirkpatrick enjoys play.  He experiments with combinations of text, symbol, codes, and images, lightheartedly calling attention to language itself, to the devices used to construct the illusion of narrative. "Pineal Gland," for example, is a pictorial diagram of the brain, the various areas of which are labeled with captions like "Current Interest in Pirates" and "Taste for Cough Syrup" and "Smell of Pledge." The story illustrates the simple truth of mnemonic devices; the brain prefers precise and vivid bits of data to abstractions. To see the human mind's taste for the ultra-specific mapped out like this is oddly touching. We recognize this weird clutter of cravings and secrets and tics and dislikes because it is our own, it's the only way we know how to remember.
The final story, "Some Kirkpatricks," nicely bookends the collection: While "Different Distances" starts with conception, "Some Kirkpatricks" closes with a long series of deaths; while "Different Distances" starts with a nuclear family, "Some Kirkpatricks" closes with an extended family. We learn about the demises of various Kirkpatricks, with photographs of these Kirkpatricks' tombstones used as guiding points for each mini-narrative. Kirkpatrick's range is on display in "Some Kirkpatricks": We see his humor; his meticulous research; his interrogation of the nature of memory; his interest in pastiche and collage; his curiosity toward the natural world; his attention to how the corporate informs the individual; his inexhaustible well of ideas.
While Light Without Heat delights in the high-concept story and does not hesitate to challenge the reader intellectually, Kirkpatrick doesn't lose sight of the thinker thinking the thought, the rememberer remembering. These are moving stories, as funny as they are sad, as full of death as they are of love. - Joe Aguilar

Crystal Castles by Matthew Kirkpatrick

Light Without by Matthew Kirkpatrick

Matthew Kirkpatrick' s blog

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