Literary Criticism, Magical Realism, Review, Uncategorized

Strange Appetites: Letter from Mentor

A spiral staircase viewed from the top with wooden steps.

Nearly 30 years after I earned my doctorate in creative writing and pedagogy, I sent my published books to one of my mentors from graduate school, Eugene Garber (University at Albany).

It’s hard to convey how much this means to me without relating how stormy my relationship to writing has been. But in the interests of brevity, I’ll simply share the letter/review.


The books have arrived. I have read Strange Appetites with great admiration. I enjoyed all the stories. “The Opal Maker,” though it depends on a kind of conceptual trick, moves into some fine mother/daughter exploration. The sister in the labyrinth is a skit. Here I think the humor wins the day. The retelling of Daphne and Apollo is a stunning account in short of the slow loss of humanity. “Calling Down the Mountain” is a masterful moving story of our bafflement in the face of loss and indeterminacy, his incompleteness now ours, or always was ours. “World’s End” reminds us that throughout, even in its darkest moments, the writer looks for hope, not some sentimental approximation of hope, but real hope at the bottom of the well.

But for all of the excellence of the foregoing stories, “The Spiral Staircase” is of a different order, truly a lapidary masterpiece. Even as I began it, the story sent me off  on associative journeys–Borges “Library of Babel,” Bartok’s Bluebeard’s Castle. And then the story brought me back to its own intention, which I believe to be an intensely lyrical exploration of presence and absence, in this case not only psychological but also metaphysical. Marvelous. 

A sumptuous still life painting of fruit and flowers with the title of the book, Strange Appetites

You are looking for a broader audience of intelligent readers. Of course, but I would hope that I could see more stories, even one more story, with the stylistic perfection and the philosophical resonance of the staircase.

I look forward to Blue Woman Burning, but I’ve got some obligatory reading ahead of it. OK, I remember with shame that workshop session, a dark blemish on an otherwise reasonably benign pedagogical history. That you have made it into a novel is at least partial redemption, even if undeserved.

Stay in touch. Keep writing. Who knew you were so close. Maybe some summer day, if Old Mortality stays his fell hand here a while longer, we might have lunch here or up there. It would be a pleasure.


4 thoughts on “Strange Appetites: Letter from Mentor”

Leave a Reply