It’d be easy to praise Danielle Dutton’s writing by contrasting it with less inventive contemporary fiction. Fiction in which the writer doesn’t understand that inept similes snag in one’s minds (“his tongue moved quickly in her mouth, like the little men on a foosball table”). In which characters are dutifully described from haircut to shoe laces, as though when we meet somebody, we do a full TSA scan. In which the author’s primary ambition seems to be shallow acclaim (in many cases, to evaluate fiction by its success in current publishing is like evaluating a giraffe by whether it’s a shoe). That is, fiction that is sure to disappoint a poet.
Dutton’s writing doesn’t, though it’d be better to praise it for what it is. Permit me blurb? How about: In the portraits, tales, and figments of autobiography in Attempts at a Life (Tarpaulin Sky, 2007), in the poignant farce and onrushing suburban lyricism of her novel Sprawl (Siglio, 2010), Danielle Dutton shows that precision can be giddily disorienting, that the voices we are made of soar in and out of narrative, and that’s the real story.
Here’s a passage from Sprawl:
“It’s bewildering, the way faces pass in and out of my line of vision as I sit in the car and wait for the light to turn green. This place tends to take on a benevolent glow when birds peck at the grass in front of the gas station on the corner. I turn left, then right, then left again, right, left, and then I go straight for quite some time, and then I take a right, another left, a right, and then I’m home: driveway, garage, linoleum, a flight of stairs, a river leading west, south, south-east, east. It’s so old-fashioned, a memory, unimportant events. Lisle and I once heard a branch fall to the ground.”
Dutton is the editor of Dorothy, a publishing project, a press “dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women.” The press seeks “to publish books that, whether conventional or un-, are uniquely themselves, that do not lean against preconceived ideas of what is wonderful, but brilliantly and purposefully convince us that they are, themselves, wonderful.” Dorothy is among my favorite publishers of current prose; I’m eager to see what they publish next. (You can read a review of two of their recent books, both by Renee Gladman, by Elaine Bleakney in KROnline.)