A.T. Grant - a bildungsroman in which a boy's parents give him a dead body to carry, to care for, to befriend. The book sits on your neck, an immobile mass ghosting you down, compressing your spine: you dress the body, you feed it, the banal made enticing, talk to it, become brothers

A. T. Grant, Collected Alex, Caketrain, 2013.


"There is a great imagination at work in the brilliant Collected Alex, a fiction that becomes increasingly complex in each of its three parts, the narrative turning inward and outward at different points, reaching an apex that is at once cerebral and visceral." - Michael Kimball, author of Big Ray *

"A. T. Grant's debut is a haunting, a bildungsroman in which a boy's parents give him a dead body to carry, to care for, to befriend. The book sits on your neck, an immobile mass ghosting you down, compressing your spine: you dress the body, you feed it, the banal made enticing, talk to it, become brothers. Collected Alex is a simple theme that fugues an intricate, magical, sophisticated, urgent, gorgeous eidolon. Grant's words clamp on and refuse absolution." - Lily Hoang, author of Changing * 

"If Charlie Kaufman and David Lynch wrote an earnest Buddhist parable together, it might read like Collected Alex. The story feels accessible and elegant, like an allegory about today written by a lonely scholar a thousand years ahead. It's beautiful." - Ken Baumann, author of Solip *

 "Lovers of misterio autentico will find in Collected Alex a blissful experience. The flowing, deadpan narration of bizarre events leads not to the resolution of a made-up conflict but to something much, much better: the warmth that comes to the soul when it relaxes in good company." - Jim Woodring, author of Congress of the Animals

Collected Alex was the winning manuscript in the 2012 Caketrain Chapbook Competition, as judged by Michael Kimball.

Alex Grant, or A.T. Grant for those of us on this side of the lit world, had his debut novella recently drop from Caketrain called Collected Alex. No pieces of this book have been published online, although there is this mega-excerpt now available on the book’s page. You can also check out other pieces of his work at Spork, Tarpaulin Sky, and Sixth Finch. He’s also a rad musician, so  you can jam with this if you’d like. Check out the interview below to learn more about Collected Alex, the book’s hypothetical dating site profile, and much more.
1. So, congrats, dude, on Collected Alex, getting selected by Michael Kimball as the winner of the 2012 Caketrain Chapbook contest. Tell us the wassup with this book: how did it start, where did it end up, what can we expect.
The book started from three separate images, and each of the three sections grew out of those images (boy dragging around a dead body, person in an empty room talking through a wall, person with a smoking head). I wrote each of them about a month apart (for a class I was taking), and I figured it would be fun to try to string them together. A little while before, I decided I should name all of my fictional characters Alex—partially because what else should I name a character and partially because I was writing poetry at the time which I didn’t want to be “about me.” I thought, “Ha. I’ll make fiction that is ‘about me.’ That’ll be funny.” Almost everything begins as an inside joke. I mean, literature and art, right.
I was also involved with some performance type things at the time which also smeared the original images. I was in a New Dance piece called “Security” with Angharad Davies (in which I played a version of myself, though the character didn’t have a name). I also measured a bridge in Minneapolis as well as my apartment in Alexes (which, I highly recommend that people everywhere measure the spaces they inhabit or encounter with their bodies). Alex was everywhere at the time. That year I also wanted to learn how to box, so I went onto the University of Minnesota campus and had some passersby punch a blownup photo of my face with a boxing glove covered in paint. Writing by itself is boring. At some point, you have to stand up and move around.
A blurred face is exactly what to expect when you do anything really.
2. Caketrain is one of my favorite presses, makers of sleekslickslim books of exceptional literary oomph. And Michael Kimball. I mean, Michael Kimball! He’s just great, right. And he selected your manuscript. What got you here? What made you decide to send it to this contest? How long had you been sending it out?
Caketrain has been one of my very favorite presses for awhile now—great work, great design. I think the first thing I read from them was Ben Mirov’s Ghost Machine, which I loved immediately. I read several Caketrain books (Tongue Party is absolutely incredible front to back) and journal issues after that, and always thought they were a yes.
And, yes, Michael Kimball—Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) is especially great. That book has so much range and heart.
Other than Caketrain, I sent to a few contests that were happening around the same time. That was the summer and fall of 2012, I guess. I had enough money to send to a few of them. Why not, I thought.
3. If your book was trying to get some hottttt dates on a dating site, what would its profile picture be (besides the cover)? What would its Favorite Books/Movies/Music section say? How would it answer the question, “What do you typically do on a Friday night?”
Here is what happens: Collected Alex makes up his mind to join match.com or whatever. He ignores the profile picture for now. Collected Alex is in a blank white room. He begins to fill out—
Favorite Books/ “With Deer, by Aase Berg,” Collected Alex types. “Parabola, by Lily Hoang,” he types. “Horse, Flower, Bird, by Kate Bernheimer. The Book of Margins, by Edmond Jabès. There Is No Year, by Blake Butler,” he types. “And all the old standbys, like Richard Brautigan.” He wants to type Twilight because he saw the movie on RiffTrax, and thinks maybe that will bring the hits, whether from fans or haters of the series, whatever. Collected Alex begins to feel self-conscious about what he is putting in the profile.
Favorite Movies/ “Twin Peaks,” he types. “The Five Obstructions (especially the original ‘The Perfect Human’ that comes as a bonus feature on the DVD). And Fitzcarraldo [that one scene where they drag the boat over the hill] and The Typewriter, the Rifle, & the Movie Camera” [which is a documentary about Sam Fuller) he types. Collected Alex’s eyes are sore. He can’t remember which movies have the tapdancing in them. He just types, “the tapdancing movies.”
Favorite Music/ “There is no music here,” says Collected Alex. He listens carefully to the truck passing by his apartment.
Typical Friday Night/ Collected Alex thinks for several minutes. The cursor blinks. Collected Alex eats a bowl of cereal. He looks out the window at the streetlight. Right now it is Friday night. Collected Alex doesn’t write that.
After taking a quick photo of himself that Collected Alex really doesn’t think bears much resemblance, Collected Alex closes the profile and lies down to go to sleep. One hour later, Collected Alex is unable to sleep knowing that so much is out there. He erases all of the information, deletes the profile, eats a bowl of cereal, and waits. Dates pile up outside his door. Collected Alex is within and without. Sometimes everything is a good decision, Collected Alex says from inside the door. The dates continue to pile up quietly outside.
4. Nice. You handled that oddball question so well. And now, I’m intrigued by the “There is no music here.” Knowing you, your Nashville-ness, your musical side, it seems the music has been left out, left behind. The Alex I talk to now, tell us about the music that was there, that stayed behind: did you listen to music when you were writing this book? what are some tunes you’re really digging nowadays? are you making any music lately?
I’m sure I listened to something while writing Collected Alex, but for the life of me I can’t remember what.
Listening-wise, here is what’s been happening recently: bluegrass (pretty traditional—like Bluegrass Album Band, Tony Rice, and other things like that), the new Justin Timberlake record, The Cure’s greatest hits record, I Belong to This Band: Eighty-Five Years of Sacred Harp Recordings (which, if you’ve never heard sacred harp singing before is huge—member of a faith or not), Bill Frisell, The Replacements, Boris, and some Earth. I’m in Virginia right now, and for some reason the radio stations around here are all still stuck on that Katy Perry record that came out a couple of years ago.
Also big on VA’s pop playlists right now is that “Cups” song by Anna Kendrick—which, for anyone who hasn’t Googled it already, goes all the way back to a song called “Miss Me When I’m Gone” by J.E. Mainer’s Mountaineers. It doesn’t matter how it’s dressed up or down, you can always spot an old folk song.
As far as making music, I’m mostly playing bluegrass guitar when I’m by myself. Old fiddle tunes, adapted Irish hymns—things like that. But about every other night, I join my brother and father in a basement and jam out on stuff like “Funk #49” (I know, I know), “Walk On” (by Neil Young), and some other stuff.
But, really, Andy Kaufman is better than anyone at everything. “I Trusted You” and some of the Tony Clifton performances have been really big for me lately.
5. I think you just admitted that you still listen to the radio. Whoops. But for real, that Katy Perry album is awesome pop music. Did you ever see the KP movie? What’s the new JT album like?
Ha! Yeah, I don’t think listening to radio is a whoops anymore than listening to something on Pitchfork or Sputnikmusic or YouTube or Spotify or whatever. I mean, who cares. It’s music. It has to come to you through some stream. And places like Pitchfork and the like are mainstream these days anyway. The Internet is one giant stream.
Never saw that KP movie. Is that on Netflix? (Editor’s Note: It’s not available for streaming, but it is available through the mail.)
As for JT’s new record: the thing I like about it is that almost every track has what feels to me like a fold in the middle of the song. The first side of the fold is the four-minute pop song. On the other side is another three or four minutes that is basically a revision or extension of that original idea. “Strawberry Bubblegum” is a good example of what I’m talking about. The first half gives you a Barry White ambient thing, and the second half does some Sly Stone keys and feels more grounded. It’s not radical or anything, but it’s cool anyway.
6. This dead body thing that you seem to push to its limits–the limits of such a story, the limits of Alex, the limits of the dead body–is so damn intriguing. Haunting and strange, somehow personal and consuming, this is a story about all of us, isn’t it? Don’t we all carry around a dead body?
I’m sure everyone has something they can read into the presence of a dead body in a story. And, of course, there are personal resonances that I have with each part of the book. I think that’s what happens when you begin with an image and let that image dictate where things go. It allows a thing to be very concrete, but also have some latitude for abstraction. By which I mean: when Alex carries the dead body with him, he isn’t carrying an outward manifestation of something internal (depression, fear, dread, etc.)—he’s carrying a dead body.
7. What are you working on now? What have you been reading?
Most recently, I’ve been working on a loosely connected series of pieces called The Showroom, The Desert of Alex, and Accelerator. Again, Alex is one of the unifying factors, but this is a different Alex than the Alex of Collected Alex. There are several of these around the internet—some in Stoked (thanks, Tyler!), The Destroyer, Ilk, Radioactive Moat, and soon in Similar:Peaks::. But at this point, that work is coming along slow—its off-and-on. I used to want to be prolific, and maybe I was for awhile. Now that seems to me like an uninteresting thing to want. Much more interesting to me is the idea of setting limits. I’ve made a tentative agreement with myself (the paperwork isn’t signed yet) to make a certain (small) number of books and no more. In fact, I might stop before the limit—I don’t know, and it would be presumptuous to assume that someone else would be interested in publishing more books in the first place.
So I’ve also been trying to read a lot less recently. I just finished Speedboat, by Renata Adler. The sentences really snap. It’s basically a series of vignettes based around a person’s voice. It does my favorite kind of storytelling: there’s not a “narrative,” but there are little shards of “things that happen” to hold onto. For me it was an experience similar to watching Gummo. It doesn’t really add up, but all of it makes sense together. When it’s, you know. Collected.
8. Have you ever seen a dead body? There’s a nine year old girl in the YMCA camp I’m running this summer whose dad runs a funeral home here in town. She keeps telling me stories about seeing her dad “prepare” bodies.
Animal yes, but no humans, exactly. I’ve seen dead bodies at funerals, but in a sense those don’t feel like real dead bodies. At that point, they’ve been so made up. As far as stumbling upon a body in the woods or in an alley somewhere—one that feels “real”—no.
9. You’re work seems to be in that lovely gray area of work between prose poetry and short short fiction. How do you see poetics informing your work? How did you handle narrative in this book?
Poetics: I don’t want to write anything that pretends it isn’t made of language.

Rather than trying to make some kind of statement, here is a silly story about “handling narrative” (by which I mean narrative is silly, writing is silly, and writers are silly—not that silly is a bad thing, necessarily): At one point in the first section, I needed Alex to get up and walk into the kitchen. I thought, how do I get him to get up and walk into the kitchen. I thought, I have no idea how to make him do that. I paced my apartment for probably twenty or thirty minutes. I bounced this little Nerf ball I have off the walls. I probably ate a snack or something. I probably watched an episode of TV show. I still had no idea. Later, I sat down and typed, “Alex walked into the kitchen” (or whatever it was, you get the drift). And I thought, huh, I guess that’s it.

Dead Sister We Are a Popped Waterballoon
The water held in the shape of balloon for a moment. The body pricked with a penknife. Beaten into cloud shapes. A place to pass through.
My dead sister and I poked at my dead body with a stick until a bug crawled out.
With a rotten strawberry. I ate it. It came back as a blood spot on my elbow. As a place to reach my finger through. Moreover the mosquitoes licked the sores of my dead body which received in its life.
Good thing my dead sister’s hand splayed over my face. Shh. A spidercrack across the window. Rock makes spider. Paper kills spider with my hand swinging paper. Scissors kills spider with my hand swinging paper and paper knocking scissors to the floor crushing spider inadvertently.
The spider I would have eaten in my sleep. The paper I would have draped over my dead face. Dead sister what is my kiss on your cheek. A strawberry. A bug.
The scissors I would have carved out of one piece of wood while I sat in the boat on a warm afternoon after the kiss on the back of my neck had dried.
Use the scissors to cut off a finger.
A flying fish. Bird scratching out the fish’s eye. And the fish flies into an ear. Left on the bank.
Let’s put the ear in a folding chair. Let’s put the chair on a stage with a black door and a red door and let’s topple the chair. Then turn on a floodlamp. All electric lines tide back to the river. To the ocean which is never enough. Which is always blurred by waves. The lamp burns out.
My dead sister shotputs an orange. The orange bursts a bird. Dead sister pretend we have to fall down when we see a bird flying.
And she falls through a hole in the floor of the boat.
Dead sister I won’t believe in you if you won’t believe in me. And then we pretend you’re lying on the riverbank. Mosquito holes all over your body. And I come running up. And we put words in each other’s mouths. Then you say. We were so close to finding the strawberry. Now the mosquitoes have it. You must stop them.
And then you say. Dead sister I’m not going on without you.
And you say. It’s too late. And you start to let your voice drift. And you mumble something I can’t hear.
And then we pretend it’s years later and the mosquitoes escaped. And I never got over it and I’m a boat builder on the other bank. And I’ve got a real bad drinking problem and you come back and I’m gonna go. Dead sister.
Gasp the words in. Like you’re swallowing them.
Then I’ll black out.
And when you wake up I’m still there. But I don’t say anything I point and you understand.
Ok. Let’s go.
As a bird bashes its body into a window over and over.
They don’t let me ride a horse or disappear you say. And when lightning falls call it campfire. And make your hand a marshmallow on a straightened clothes hanger and hold it over the fire. When it catches fire I wave it in the night. As a smoke signal. A flare. And I hear ghostnotes shine in the scrape of the tree limbs.
If a tree falls it is caught by other trees. Or it is broken over a rock. Or it is pulped into paper. Or it is whittled into a pair of wooden scissors. Or a boat.
Have some water. Doesn’t the river taste like someone else’s spit. As if I could touch the own hand of my death. Paddle in the water not moving. Water in the river not pulling. River down the vein of the valley.
I’m hunting for me now and I must go quietly. Try and shush me. In a boat made for mouthing. Made of nothing. On nothing. Hung there. Stay empty sky.
A gash in the side of the boat. In the side of my dead sister. My hand a hook. It drifts through her lip. The holes in her bleed and bleed and my hand is a strawberry fist.
My strawberry fist squeezes her blood till it clots.
And a mosquito flies from my dead sister’s mouth. It bites her blood clots. Then it licks her blood from my fingers. Until they are clean.
I yell for my dead sister but when I do. The mosquito bites my arm. It whistles and more mosquitoes stream from my dead sister’s mouth.
And they swarm my arm. They are flags lining my bloodlines. My dead sister watches them. She watches them stab so many holes in me. Watches them fly through the holes. In my arms. In my eyes. In my belly. Until my dead sister can see through. The holes punched through my dead brother body.
She wiggles her finger through the hole in my lip. She says gotcha. And she giggles.
Dead sister I scream. Help. Help. Help me. Dead sister.
She snaps her fingers and the mosquitoes freeze. Their needles frozen in my arm. My bloodcicles in their straws.
Thank you dead sister I say. Let me get those for you she says. And she presses the mosquitoes into me like pushpins.
Kills the mosquitoes into me. I wince each time she kills them. Dead sister I shout. That hurts.
Oops I’m sorry my dead sister says. Strawberry juice leaks from her eyes. She helps me wash my skinsuit in the river. Strawberry juice leaks from both of our eyes.
Strawberry Gash
The river in my dead sister’s mouth. The air a thick churned sludge. The light heavy. It bends the limbs of the trees. Folds them till they crack. And when they crack they stick splintered through my dead sister’s teeth.
She feels the splinters with her tongue. Her teeth spit shined. She picks at the splinters with my knife. When she can’t get the splinters loose she shreds her teeth. They ash down over the boat. My face covered with toothshreds.
I breathe in the toothshreds and sneeze and feel a seam in my skin suit rip open. A gash in the side of my skin suit. It bleeds. A strawberry. A bug. Black sludge. A mouth puking.
And the gash in my skin suit is a gash in the side of the boat. My dead sister is a gash. A gash opening in the middle of the river. My dead sister and I the leak from the gash.
A Gaping Hole in My Dead Sister’s Chest. Splits Open and a Little Juice Comes Out.
I stick my hand into her goop. Reach up my dead sister’s throat like she’s a sock puppet. When I move my fingers her mouth opens.
And her tongue shoots out. It looks like a squiggling Z. A mosquito lands on it like a blood rope.
Or line.
I make a buzzing noise and it travels up my arm and my dead sister hums.
I plug my fingers into my dead sister’s eye sockets and my eyes glow behind their lids. Soon my whole skin is see-thru. Nothing but dead stuff underneath.
My sister wears her dead on the outside.

I move my dead sister’s mouth. I make it say. Ok now it is your turn dead brother. And I put her hand in my chest.

poems from WAKE

DEAD BROTHER:I want to carve out my body as a skin for you to wear. Dead Sister I don’t want my body anymore you can live in it for awhile and I’ll just be a plain Dead Brother in no skinsuit.You can drift along wearing your me-skinsuit. You can make me a fish. You can cut gills in my Dead Brother neck. You can tie me with fishing line to the side of the boat and I’ll be dragged openmouthed down the river. Or I can swing from the trees. I can balance on the side of the boat. I’ll hover over the water and when I point my finger you’ll understand.

Dead Brother eyes small as pinpricks. Dead Brother eyes hung in the night sky. Dead Brother covered with strawberry bruises. Leaking jam. Swoled up and poked with a stick until a bug crawls out of Dead Brother’s mouth or until his body bursts. Scatters a blood drip. Oil trail in the water.

the wind blows through one end of an organ pipe the sound leaks out the other I spit a good shine into your organ pipe face I see myself in the shine I hold you so my face and your face line up perfectly so we can’t tell us apart

Gravel in my back. Splinters in my back. Water seeping through the joints. River at my back. When I lie back I’m below the water line.
Jump up and down in the boat the river won’t eat it. The river will eat us and spit us out. The river swallowed in the belly of a great fish. The river leaking out of the fish eye. The fish leaking out of an eye. The fish leaking. Dead Sister leaking. My skinsuit leaking. Which means I also must be leaking. What is it like to leak. Being a broken thing. Pulled through a gash in the riverbed.
What if we reach. Reach the river inside the river.
There is no river inside the river. The river is inside something.
The river fills a deep ditch. Gash in the belly.
Dead Sister the river inside you. There is no river inside me.
The river wash under my skinsuit. My skin not touching other skin.
Dead Sister popped in a bubble. Inverted bubble: water layer, air layer, water.
I blew through a fish mouth and you. And I split the gills wider when I came through.

taught Dead Sister to shadowbox
to take a punch and spit a strawberry
to pedal her legs like an airbike
or instead she taught me
she knows bird words
and how to take apart a fish
she could drown a fish with her spit
or carve a fish into the face
of the river
Dead Sister slips her finger in
the water
she does so much tracing
her finger is a lure for a fish
she can be a fish
so she knows how to make them
come close
she lets them
eat her fingers off

Dead Sister you keep coming back forever and I don’t know who you are. Dead Sister you look like me. Dead Sister you look like millions of dead sisters inside of you. Dead Sister you look like. And you look like. And you laugh. And you play.
And you are born forever and you are dead forever. Dead Sister I don’t have a name for you and when I try to put a name on you it falls off. And it floats on the river and a fish eats it. Or it breaks on the floor of the boat. And you laugh again and skip away.
Dead Sister do I love your death. Do I love my own. Dead Sister did my soul choke yours out somehow.

Dead Sister will you ever not come around. Dead Sister is there something you want to tell. Tell me. Dead Sister my head feels light. Dead Sister my body feels light. Dead Sister my. Feels light. Light fills.

Grant makes songs as New South Bear. You can hear songs here


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