Paige Cooper on Peter Carey’s Fantastic

Paige Cooper
photo: Adam Michels

The short stories in Paige Cooper’s Zolitude are dark and uncanny, and it takes a while to get adjusted to her world. Even a story like Moriah, which starts off with a woman driving a bookmobile to a remote community of registered sex offenders—a premise that’s odd, to be sure, but still within the bounds of the plausible—may end up taking a sudden turn into fantasy, leaving you to sort out what’s just happened. In this guest essay, Paige talks about discovering another author with a flair for the fantastic, Australia’s Peter Carey. But this is no simple panegyric; Cooper’s nuanced appreciation of Carey’s short stories helps us see certain “gaps,” as she calls them, that we can learn to recognize (as both readers and writers) and face head on.

When we were nineteen my new friend said, “What about Peter Carey, though? Did you read the one where he goes ‘EVERY TIME WE FUCK A HORSE DIES’?” We knew each other from our undergraduate fiction workshop. She was the best writer at the table. This was because she was the best reader. We’d go for spring rolls and cokes at a Vietnamese place off-campus. I never mentioned the demolished copies of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire in my dorm room. Maybe I alluded to the uncracked copy of War & Peace. Mostly I wrote down names she mentioned.

“Uh, no,” I said. I cared about fucking, I cared about horses, I liked capslock. I wrote PETER CAREY in my student agenda. A few weeks or months later I was at the discount bookstore downtown where everything was always remaindered or crap and Collected Stories was sitting on top of a bin of low-fat cookbooks. It became the first book of short fiction I’d ever purchased. Plausibly, it became the first contemporary short fiction I’d ever read (despite having already written two or three short stories in order to get into a creative writing program so that I could, presumably, write more.)

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4 May 2018 | selling shorts |