If you like poetry, but not necessarily fiction, then chances are good you'll dig the short fiction of Lynn K. Kilpatrick. It also helps if you have an affinity for kitchen knives.
A Salt Lake City talent who grew up in Idaho and Iowa, Kilpatrick revels in short, almost epigrammatic paragraphs and sentences that look small on the page, but pack a wallop of narrative punch over multiple readings. Readers who prefer the short fiction of Chekov, rather than the more experimental Borges and Barthelme, might come to appreciate Kilpatrick's unique voice: dark, brooding but playful, it snaps back at you when you least expect it.
Kilpatrick studied poetry at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., prior to her arrival at the University of Utah. Finishing her PhD in English and fiction writing in 2004, she now teaches composition and literature at Salt Lake Community College.
"When I first started as a writer, I was more interested in journalism," Kilpatrick said. "I really liked Hemingway's style, even if I didn't like his subjects. Nowadays, the people I admire are mystery writers like Raymond Chandler and the Icelandic mysteries of Arnaldur Indriðason. Finding writers with a command of both language and plot is really difficult."
Why did you switch from poetry to fiction?
I got to a point with poetry that it wasn't doing what I wanted it to do, even if my approach to fiction is informed by poetry. The way my brain works is more narrative than lyric. It's the implicitness or implying of things that's informed my fiction. Blending the two helped me do what I wanted to do. That's why my stories are really short, and not concerned with motivation or back story the way a lot of fiction is. They're more concerned about the language and the present moment. For me, it's a way of exploring story, to see what works. Also, getting rid of backstory and motivations means I don't like explanations. I want to trust the reader to understand that, if I imply something, they get it.
Your first story, which also makes the title of your book, contains a curious hint at the origins of identity. Especially in the sentence, 'She becomes an
become her, who knows really? '
We have these very rigid notions of identity in our culture. But one of the things that's attractive about reading is losing yourself in the story. I'm also interested in how sympathy works in the world. Do we identify with this character? Do we become her? In one way, that's one of the most basic elements of reading. We can all remember times when we lose ourselves in a book. For a while we cease being ourselves, and we at least get to experience that. Even in some of my more straightforward stories I'm interested in structure, and how the form of the story dictates our experience of it. It's about the structure of the house, but also the structure of narrative and how those two things inform each other. In canonical literature there's also a long legacy of women entrapped in homes and relationships. I'm interested in how they're trapped not just in homes, but also in narrative. I'm trying to update that idea, and call it into question.
There are a lot of kitchen knives in this book.
A friend remarked on that after I finished the book. There's something comforting and threatening about the domestic and domestic objects. The knife is a weapon, and also a tool. It's just there when you enter a home, and it's probably the most threatening aspect of the domestic. If you're a woman, you're most likely to be subject to violence by someone you know inside the home.
Your stories read like bite-size pieces of dread and apprehension circling the orbit of personal relationships. Do you get annoyed when you hear public figures talk about the sanctity or primacy of the family?
A lot of times it's not the sense that they're talking about the sanctity of something, but they miss the total picture of what really goes on. There needs to be a more complete representation of what's going on. That's what these different fictions represent.
These are dark works. Do you believe human intimacy is possible?
I'm not a complete pessimist. There's obviously a certain necessity for private space. 'The Infinite Cages' is a story about the extreme of that. But there are more moderate examples of how we hide from each other so we don't have to interact. Of course intimacy is possible, but most happy people are all alike. It's really conflict that makes interesting fiction. There's always something uncomfortable when you encounter another person. It calls into question your own identity. I'm not just interested in who people are individually, but also when they come into contact with other unstable identities.
When » April 29, 7 p.m.
Where » The King's English Bookshop, 1511 South 1500 East, Salt Lake City
Info » Free. Call 801-633-0936 for more information, or visit http://www.kingsenglish.com