I like to mix up my reading: classics, middlebrow, mysteries. I like to look people in the eye and say I’m reading both The Man without Qualities and a Ngaio Marsh mystery. It’s a double dare-ya f–k-you kind of pose.
This weekend I plan to go a different route and revisit the experimental realist Stephen Dixon’s demanding but blessedly spare short stories.
My husband and I are reminiscing about our Dixon fandom, because he died on November 6 of pneumonia and complications from Parkinson’s disease at the age of 83. We have read his books for so many years we never realized he was mortal. Dixon has never gotten much attention in the press, though he published more than 500 short stories in The Paris Review and other little magazines, and two of his books, Frog and Interstate, were nominated for The National Book Award. He wrote 36 novels and story collections, most (perhaps all?) published by small presses.
Many of Dixon’s short stories are published online. Here’s the affecting first paragraph of Dixon’s short story “Crazy,” which was published at Electric Literature in 2015.
I have a dream. In it I’m pushing my wife in a wheelchair on a narrow street in New York. Chinatown, during the lunch hour. Four- to five- story buildings, lots of small restaurants, sidewalks very crowded and people walking fast. “Excuse me, excuse me,” I say to people in front of us. “Better watch out. I don’t want to run in to you.” I’ve no idea where I’m going. I’m just pushing. My wife sits silently, looking straight ahead.
It’s a brilliant story. I don’t like all of his work equally–but I do like it. I regret that our public library has none of his books. (They have in the past. They apparently discarded them.)
Ave atque vale, Stephen. And may your work be read.
4 thoughts on “A Neglected Writer: Stephen Dixon (1936-2019)”
I can’t remember where I across Stephen Dixon’s 1985 novel Fall and Rise. I imagine it was the cover, with its shot of Manhattan, that encouraged me to pick it up. A overly-romantic Montrealer, I was in my early twenties then, and longed to live in New York. Fall and Rise became a favourite. For a long time, I kept an eye out for other Dixon books in Canadian bookstores, but failed to spot a one. Thank you for reminding me of this novel, and how much it meant to me. Time to resume my search – this time online.
Dixon seems to be well-respected by writers (accordign to the Washington Post, Jonathan Lethem called him a writer’s writer), but he was barely acknowledged by reviewers in the mainstream press, which is sad. I used to find his books from time to time in indie bookstores, but those days are gone. Online is the way to go!
Stephen Dixon I’ve never heard of, I’m afraid, so I’ll look out for him. My own favourite experimental short-story writer is Lydia Davis.
I loved her translation of Madame Bovary. Haven’t read her stories, though.