Wherein Chuck Greaves praises the erudition of Rex Stout, David Abrams hails Agatha Christie’s ability to breed distrust in teenagers, David Huddle discusses the shining sentences of J.D. Salinger, Tim Horvath thanks Renata Adler for broadening his perspective on language, and Kurt Baumeister shares how master satirist Kurt Vonnegut taught him to be himself. Baumeister returns with a final outro, including an index readers can use to find their favorite pieces in the series.
by David Huddle
Ever since I read Nine Stories in 1961, I’ve been under the influence of J. D. Salinger. The fact that I grew up in Appalachia made Salinger’s writing all the more exotic and compelling to me. Enlisting in the army in 1964 and convincing the army to send me to the Army Intelligence School were choices informed by “For Esme with Love and Squalor.” I still think his sentences are among the most pleasurable I’ve ever read—a shining example is thirteen-year old Esme’s droll and heartbreaking question to Sergeant X: “Are you at all acquainted with squalor?” In 1961, all I knew was that I loved those stories and read them so many times I could recite whole paragraphs from memory. Even now I often hear myself whispering Esme’s polite note to Sergeant X as a mantra for my daily life: “I hope you return from the war with all your faculties intact.”
David Huddle is the author of Hazel, and more than twenty previous books, including fiction, essays, and poetry. His novel Nothing Can Make Me Do This won the Library of Virginia Award for Fiction, and his Black Snake at the Family Reunion won the PEN New England Award for Poetry. He teaches at the Bread Loaf School of English and the Rainier Writing Workshop. A native of Ivanhoe, Virginia, Huddle has lived in Vermont for over four decades.
by David Abrams
In 1975, I was a body in a library reaching for a book. I was twelve years old, caught at that awkward border between boy and man. I pulled the paperback out of the wedge of books and turned to the first page. I was a body in a library reading The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie. That afternoon, I met sin in all its cool adult glory: deceivers unspooling deception, adults engaged in adultery, stranglers tightening their grip on the ends of scarves. The world’s most widely-read mystery novelist taught me about masks and the true faces they hide. She taught me to distrust and to observe. She showed me that nothing is ever as it seems.
David Abrams is the author of Brave Deeds and Fobbit. Abrams’ short stories have appeared in the anthologies Montana Noir, Watchlist, Fire and Forget, and several others. Other stories and essays have appeared in Esquire, Glimmer Train Stories, Narrative, F(r)iction, The Greensboro Review, and many other publications. Abrams earned a BA in English from the University of Oregon and an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. He lives in Butte, Montana with his wife. He blogs about books at The Quivering Pen: www.davidabramsbooks.blogspot.com
by C. Joseph Greaves
I first discovered Rex Stout and his thirty-odd Nero Wolfe detective novels at around the time I discovered pleasure reading, which is to say in my early teens. The books were erudite, and slyly political, and sometimes touched on hot-button social issues like Communism (The Second Confession, 1949), and civil rights (A Right to Die, 1964), and governmental intrusion (The Doorbell Rang, 1965). And while I didn’t realize it at the time, they were teaching me everything I needed to know about writing a compelling mystery: an inciting incident, a quest, obstacles to be overcome, and a big reveal. Boom.
Chuck Greaves/C. Joseph Greaves has been a finalist for most of the major awards in crime fiction including the Shamus, Macavity, Lefty, and Audie. His last novel Tom & Lucky (Bloomsbury) was a Wall Street Journal “Best Books of 2015” selection and finalist for the 2016 Harper Lee Prize. His sixth novel Church of the Graveyard Saints (Torrey House) will be in bookstores September, 2019.
by Tim Horvath
When I picked up Renata Adler’s Pitch Dark from the remainder stand outside the Strand in my early twenties, my eye alighted on, “The world is everything that is the case. And in the second place because.” I knew the first line was Wittgenstein and would soon learn the second was Nabokov, but I wouldn’t know for many years how much this book would shape my way of thinking about language, relationships, and storytelling.
I went on to write my thesis on the book’s fragmentary challenge to knowledge, at one point photocopying the whole thing so I could write marginalia without marring the deckle edge pages. It remained mysterious, elusive, which I continue to admire as much as its bold turns of phrase, its obsessively recurring refrains, and the way it treated language itself as material: plenty of warp, a little weft.
Tim Horvath (www.timhorvath.com) is the author of Understories (Bellevue Literary Press), which won the New Hampshire Literary Award, and Circulation (sunnyoutside press), with stories in Conjunctions, AGNI, and elsewhere. He teaches Creative Writing at New England College, including in the Institute of Art and Design.
by Kurt Baumeister
A reviewer recently mentioned Vonnegut’s influence in relation to my novel Pax Americana—and he’s the point of reference that seems to be most common when people are looking for one with my work—so, why not, let’s make the last influence of Under the Influence, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr..
I discovered Vonnegut late, as I was finishing my undergraduate work (in accounting…yick!) and I sailed through his major books (and a few others) in short order. He’s smooth, easy reading, of that there can be no doubt. Of the books I read, the one that stuck with me most was Cat’s Cradle, and I would say there are certainly elements of Pax Americana’s world-bending computer program Symmetra that echo Cat’s Cradle’s deadly water variant, Ice-nine.
To sum up what I learned from Vonnegut in a few words: I’d say I learned I could have fun and still be writing “serious” fiction; I learned I could let my imagination go, more or less as far as I liked as long as I could make some odd sort of sense of things eventually; and I learned I was allowed to be serious and humorous, political and ridiculous, more or less at the same time, and certainly in the same work.
This is the end of Entropy’s Under the Influence, at least for the foreseeable future. I have novels and poems to write. I have books to review, interviews both ridiculous and not-so to conduct. Oh, I may be back at some point, as there were many of my personal favorites (Margaret Atwood, Milan Kundera, Graham Swift, Julian Barnes, Lorrie Moore, Will Self, Anthony Burgess, etc., etc., etc.) we never got around to covering. But I’ve run every piece I accepted, just as I said I would at the beginning—I’ve even written a few myself—and now seems like a good time to shut things down.
Thanks to all my contributors! I’ve listed them below, along with their influences, for your ease of references:
Roll Call (by issue, in order of appearance, writer (influence))
- UTI #1: Evison (Fante), Makkai (Shakespeare), Mokkil (Doerr), Bullwinkel (Gordon), Sidhu (Brophy), barlow (Schulz)
- UTI #2: Sparks (Dinesen), Stone (Davis), Reich (Acker), Fowler (McCracken), Domini (Barthelme), Seidlinger (Ballard)
- UTI #3: Cohen (Ishiguro), Smith (Jansson), Nordmark (Mantel), Jackson (Borges), Rothacker (Ovid), Bowles (Nezahualcoyotl)
- UTI #4: Strauss (Pritchett), Dermansky (Eisenberg), Jones (Winterson), Rice (Hernandez), Allen (Dunn), Catalano (Faulkner)
- UTI #5: Bhuvaneswar (Erdrich), Ferro (Wallace), Campanioni (Infante), Wright (O’Connor), Reed (Gardner), Hudson (Allison)
- UTI #6: Doubinsky (Moorcock), Janeshek (Barnes), Spiegel (Ferrante), Cherry (Johnson), Lessard (Baudelaire), Frank (Sterne)
- UTI #7: Sattin (Murakami), Collins (Jackson), Wilson (Burroughs), Di Blasi (de Maupassant), Cohen (Bellow), Martin (Williams)
- UTI #8 : Nagamatsu (Abe), Sneed (Silber), Salvatore (DeLillo), Wilson (Crane)
- UTI #9 : Leavitt (O’Farrell), Lorber (Rimbaud), Singer (Purpura), Cummings (Plath)
- UTI #10: Beers (Sexton), Little (Sendak), Snoek-Brown (Austen), Sampsell (Bernstein)
- UTI #11: Hightower (Kafka), Beaudoin (Carroll), Maxwell (Snyder), Squires (Murdoch), Baumeister (Amis)
- UTI #12: Werner (Hempel), Fournier (Coupland), Bender (Maso), Blaine (Chandler), Baumeister (Rushdie)
- UTI #13: Buckless (Tolkien), Specktor (Stevens), Spatz (Agee), Warren (Munro), Baumeister (Nabokov)
- UTI #14: Huddle (Salinger), Abrams (Christie), Greaves (Stout), Horvath (Adler), Baumeister (Vonnegut)
As I said, I may be back at some point, with this column or an anthology in which I ask some of my contributors to expand their pieces into the 2000-word or so range. Who knows? But it’s been a pleasure editing/curating this column for you.
Thanks, as always, to Entropy’s Editor-in-Chief Janice Lee who has been fabulous to work with, friendly graphicsmith Ryan W. Bradley for the Under the Influence logo he was so generous as to provide, and everyone who’s been a reader. I hope you’ve found something useful in these columns, an influence or thought, that has helped enrich your writing and your world. Peace.