Eugene Marten Brings a Dead Horse to Life

There’s a great profile in this morning’s New York Observer of the vastly under-appreciated author Eugene Marten, whose latest novel, Firework, was recently released by Tyrant Books, an offshoot of the equally under-appreciated New York Tyrant literary journal. Marten first caught my eye about a year ago with his short novel Waste, perhaps the most moving (if harrowing) study of necrophilia since George Bataille’s Story of the Eye. His clipped prose is deceptively flat and surprising lyrical. As in Denis Johnson’s best work, odd and beautiful turns of phrase seem to rise up out of nowhere and sucker-punch the reader.

Firework finds Marten updating the American road novel. Backdropped by the blaze of 1992’s LA riots (reports are heard over the radio), a depressed man heads west accompanied by a toothless, crack-addicted prostitute named Littlebit, and her daughter, Miss D. Despite his interest in subversive subject matter, Marten comes across in the profile as fairly normal (married with kids, wears dress shirts, works for Xerox, wakes up at 5 a.m. to write) if slightly reserved and unreadable. But there is something of the philosopher in him as well. Musing on the current state of literature, Marten explains, “There are times when I worry that the form seems kind of stuck or stagnant. All I can do is try to keep up my end of it. I always think when you hear the novel is dead-in a way, it’s always been dead. You’re always flogging a dead horse. But, you know, you want to bring the horse to life. That’s the miracle of it. When you read something extraordinary, it feels miraculous.”

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