1. Could you tell us the name of a book that you love, and why? For 15-years I’ve been crushing hard on Mark Leyner’s My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist. It’s probably the first experimental writing that resonated with me. Though a “novel” (17 barely-related chapters; in some but not all, a character utters the phrase, “My cousin, my gastroenterologist…”), I consider this book more like poetry (& as visceral as cinema). The word-play, the vicious & sudden turns like punch-lines, the music & velocity, how—like a poet—Leyner seems hell-bent on reaffirming formal traditions such as narrative & plot only to knock those traditions on their ass. I actually read excerpts of this book to my mother once; she laughed herself to tears.
2. Where were you when you first read, or saw, or heard of this book?
Grad school. I was probably shaking with energy while I read it…
3. Did this book influence your own writing, thinking, sense of the world, or work?
This book totally changed what I thought was possible. Because I came to poetry late, and wasn’t well-read at all when I got to grad school, I spent my first year in workshop trying hard (too hard, & having not much fun) to write the kind of serious (see: narrowly linear, totally narrative) poems that I thought I was supposed to be writing. Those poems went against everything I actually wanted: a poetry that could be fueled by, say, 80s video games, the wonderfully entertaining absurdity of early MTV & Skinemax, the irony (political & otherwise) of comics like Richard Pryor & George Carlin, Devo records (& Devo philosophy), Streak-ums & cheese-whiz, kung-fu, Jerry Springer, too much McDonald’s & Coca-Cola, Creature Double Features…
My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist was the first book to show me that pop-culture—with its attendant language & manners, concerns & subversions—was legitimate material.
Here’s a link to the “The Suggestiveness Of One Stray Hair In An Otherwise Perfect Coiffure”, a “story” that might as well be a prose poem for all its heightened imagery & metaphor. I give this one to all my students—composition, creative writing, literature—because it blows minds every time. My favorite lines are the last three: “You got a car bomb, he says. The man rolls his eyes. I know that, he says.”
5. Who did you send this book to, why?
I sent the above-link to my friend (& the dynamite) Josh Bell. Josh was the one who turned me on to My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist. The entirety of my email to Josh goes: Remember this? I can’t wait to see what he writes back…
Brief Bio: Matthew Guenette is the author of American Busboy (University of Akron Press, 2011) and Sudden Anthem (Dream Horse Press, 2008). He lives, works, and loses sleep with his family in Madison, WI.