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Segue 9: Fall 2010  ||  J.M. Parker


about the author


J.M. Parker is a researcher in narrative theory at the Institut des Sciences Humaines in Paris, and teaches as an Assistant Professor at a private university in Istanbul. He is currently working on a series of interlocking short stories, of which “The Gambler” is one, as well as a nonfiction volume on the image of foreign cities in American literature. His fiction has appeared in Frank, Gertrude, Harrington Fiction Quarterly and other journals.


about the work


The material for this story comes from a period when I was taking a lot of notes about things that were happening around me—when a single phrase to describe some one event often shot through my head very clearly and got jotted down and stored – in many different computer files and notebooks that I carried around or worked on. We live so many narrative threads in our lives simultaneously: how to disentangle them? I trusted chronology to solve part of the problem. But chronology alone wasn’t enough. I decided to group my notes around characters.

So this story was supposed to be a portrait—one of a series of portraits that would ultimately fit together to tell a longer story. As I worked, I realized no single person one meets in life can really have his story amputated from all the others. I try. But, as someone who once read other of the stories from this collection said, “Wouldn’t it be nice if all the people you wrote about were just one person?” In a way, in fiction and in life, I believe they are. Don’t we, after all, in moments of laziness, or in moments of clarity, live the same story over and over with different people? This is partly what “The Gambler” is about, and this is why the characters in stories I write are so amorphous and so hard to pin down and tend to run over into each other.

People tell me when I explain a situation aloud I explain all the unnecessary details, leave out the most important parts, and finally neglect to say what I actually mean by telling it at all. There are gaps in this story. Leaving them there, not trying to break beyond the surface of the moments I recorded was one of the hardest parts of writing this piece. I trust the details themselves, the little moments of understanding, of fixation on an object, of a fleeting glimpse recorded on the spot, more than I could ever trust any sense one can pull out of them. One can pull any sense one likes out of an experience or a set of experiences to suit what one wants to see at the moment, and that bothers me, because the sense we make of things changes over time, and perhaps sense should change over time – the sense we make of our lives needs to be malleable in order for us to survive and develop and move on. And yet I like to think that these little moments of seeing are valuable in themselves and of themselves, just as they were. I like to hope that, even as our sense of our lives and their events changes, these little moments might remain fixed, pinned to the table like formaldehyded exhibits, protected from interpretation. That they not be fiddled with or have the dust scratched from their wings in all the moving around that we do with the events of our lives, in our minds, over a lifetime, to make sense of them, for the practical purposes we find for them. Like stones making a castle, I don’t mind if you lay them down and build on them, cement them together, bury them under a structure that rises… as long as you don’t chisel them, don’t fit them together so that they are fused together forever. I like the idea that if the whole thing were taken apart again, each stone, round river rock or chardy broken bit, could have the cement rubbed gently off and sit in your hands, exactly as it was before it became a part of any structure.

Of course this is nonsense, because I do edit, a lot (I tend toward long sentences, with paraphrases that simply will not do—or, no, it’s not even that: I don’t tend toward sentences at all. If left alone on the planet with a pen and notebook, I’m sure I’d never use another sentence again). Editing is necessary, but I always feel like I’m running a delicate balance between making it legible and killing it. And I take enormously long breaks between rewritings (years).

They say the point of fiction is “making strange.” But if truth is stranger than fiction, then isn’t fiction the banalization of life? I often think writing follows the basic rule of French cooking: take something fresh, do something to it, then do something else to it. That’s art. But life was always better.


J.M. Parker on the web







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