I’ve written in the past about my fondness for One Story – they’ve consistently done good things, injecting quality stories into my days in the smallest of spaces. I’ve let my OS reading slide a bit recently, but for reasons unknown I started right in when Matt Cheney’s "Blood" arrived in the mail. (Took me a while to make the connection between this story and The Mumpsimus – the author’s note makes no mention of his site.)
I’m glad I did – I found it tied in well with my recent enjoyment of The Open Curtain, in that they both deal with violence and a strictness of thought, tying these themes together and showing how they relate. The Open Curtain took a century-old murder and tied to it the present; "Blood" relates a story of a family’s disintegration in the face of violence, but does so from multiple approaches – a mother’s leaving, a father’s paranoia, sibling relations, children being forced into adulthood – and the writing is direct, leaving a clean, neat story that allows the readers to work out for themselves the details. That’s a poor way of putting it, and I’m struggling to find a better way, but the interview at One Story with Matt conveys it better:
Where did the idea of this story come from?
I attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in the summer of 2000 and was in a workshop with Barry Lopez, a workshop that completely rearranged my thinking about both fiction and language. One of the exercises Lopez gave us was to write about a violent act, but in a particularly deliberate and compassionate way — in a way that attempted to preserve the humanity of both the person committing the violence and the victim. I don’t remember the details, but this exercise got me thinking about the language of violence, because when I was young I had loved gory horror movies and books, but had eventually come to find them angering because of how manipulative and exploitative they were—entire situations were created simply as excuses for violent acts and for inspiring revulsion in the reader or viewer. I don’t find such an approach pleasurable or even justifiable anymore. I’ve seen enough violence in the real world to want to find ways to represent it in language, to shape it and give it meaning, but I also want to do so in ways that do not trivialize human pain and complexity.
I returned home from Bread Loaf and wrote the first draft of this story as a way to explore what I had been thinking about there, so it started as a technical exercise. As the characters and situation became clearer to me, though, I realized that it was all much more than an exercise, and that it could be a way to express feelings and fears that tend to plague me—feelings of disconnection, fears of destruction. Ultimately, despite my best intentions, I always end up writing from the depths of my neuroses.
Cheney’s ability to take a story that is, on the surface, about one thing, and give the reader just enough to see the undercurrents, makes a great read. This is a whole novel of ideas boiled down to the essentials.